We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
ALLEGORY OF HIS LIFE
But what was it all about?
“There came a time when the old gods died! The brave died with the cunning! The noble perished, locked in battle with unleashed evil!” New Gods #1
Thus Jack Kirby launched his most personal opus. A wonderfully evocative phrase, full of both horror, and promise, for when something ends, something new must emerge.
But just what was Jack Kirby‘s new epic about? Kirby called it a novel about “ourselves”, a visualization of modern man seen through the milieu of the fantasy artist. Utilizing the symbolism and concepts of the super hero genre, to idealize, and entertain, yet at its heart, it was a history lesson, Jack Kirby’s history. Part biography, part subjective observation, but mostly, a sly treatise of 20th Century sociopolitical history as deep and true as any written by scholars steeped in academics and PHD’s.
“The New Gods was my own attempt to create a comic book epic, and this I did. I used four books in which to do it…I filled it with a cast and creations that were highly innovative for the period, and I tried to be as creative as I could. I used the young people of the times, the times themselves became the backdrop of my stories.”
In the manner of Swift, and Twain, Kirby took an art form founded in entertainment, and low expectation, and transformed it into something unique, “graphic allegory”, in fact, I call this “Allegory of his life”.
One has to wonder, knowing Kirby’s haphazard approach to telling stories if Jack had the wherewithal to scope out a story so connectedly. His m. o. was usually one story at a time and let it come to him organically as he sits at the board. I doubt if he purposefully sat down and outlined it straight through, obviously as we are told of how Black Racer came about, he didn’t. But I do think that with the time he had before DC gave him the go ahead that Jack had a basic cohesive structure to the tale. The latter historical type issues seem to have been conceived and executed to tie things into a neater package and the back history might have been subconscious and just a part of Jack’s psyche. But it’s too intertwined to be a coincidence.
“I’ve noticed that throughout the years, each civilization had its own historical facts, its own historical legends, and its own historical ways of storytelling. I began to ask myself the question of “What were the ingredients of our own storytelling- of the storytelling we see today all about us, in the various materials that we read?” With comics as my vehicle for telling a story, I began to set down the kind of thoughts that were common to the period in which I was raised. You’ll find that the elements are mixed, but they have validity and they have the potency of truth.”
The best allegories work on many levels, the big picture, the personal picture, and as entertainment.
So what do Kirby’s opening lines have to do with his life? Jacob Kurtzberg was born in a period marked by the end of “old gods” Gone were the Czars, the Archdukes, and Kaisers, left powerless were the Kings, and Emperors, whose legacy of absolute authority had stretched for centuries. The age of the feudal gods, lording over personal territories had for all intents and purposes ended. This was Kirby’s birthright.
On a more personal level, in 1970, Jack had just ended a period highlighted by the creation of a universe populated with Gods, and gods. What better way to show the break from his personal past to a new chapter than to literally “kill the old gods”? Few were the readers who didn’t “get” the irony in this audacious beginning. The splash page of New God’s #1 echoes a page Kirby did in the Tales of Asgard stories concerning Ragnarok—the end of the gods.
The next part of Kirby’s opening tells of a…”Final moment came with the fatal release if indescribable power—which tore the home of the old gods asunder—split it in great halves”
When World War 1 ended, the socio-political landscape had been turned asunder. And from the resulting chaos, the world split into two ever-conflicting political spheres, two ideological philosophies at odds with each other. Rule by the people vs. rule by the state. Democracy vs. the ‘isms; one side led by freely elected leaders, the other by the philosophical dictators of Fascism, Communism, Nazism, and Militarism.
Some might say that my description is simplistic, maybe even jingoistic, that the differences between the two sides is far more complicated and nuanced than I make it out. I agree, but this was Kirby’s viewpoint. I don’t think he would make those types of distinctions. His was a more simplistic nature, Nazis were bad, Americans were good. Commies were bad, though he might not be able to say exactly why. He knew of the gulags, he knew of the Berlin Wall, and he knew that they were anti-religious. He didn’t need much more to make up his mind.
Personally, Kirby’s life had always been divided into two camps. Have’s vs. have nots, swells v regular Joe’s, tall v. short, boss v worker, good v evil. Why should Kirby view the larger universe any differently?
Jack Kirby, in his most dramatic fashion boiled it down to its essential. “The fatal release of indescribable power….which tore the home of the old gods asunder…split it in great halves” “In the end there were two giant molten bodies, spinning slow and barren…clean of all that had gone before” He then shows how the two new bodies evolved, one, New Genesis, into a world of light, and enlightenment. Orion calls it “a true place of peace!” where individuals are encouraged to fulfill their own destinies. The other, a demons pit called Apokolips, ruled by an iron fist, and the population, little more than worker drones in service to the state. Never has this concept been more visually powerful, than the contrast between the colorful utopia of New Genesis vis-à-vis the gray, barren, smoke belching pits of Apokolips.
“My conjecture- which is part of good storytelling, I think- still had to do with good and evil, and therefore I contrived an evil world with an evil family, and a good world with a good family.”
Did not World War 2 end in a sudden burst of light and energy, and the victors soon divide the spoils into 2 different worlds?
In Kirby’s personal life, isn’t this how Kirby described the latter years at Marvel where he was treated as one of the cogs in the corporate structure? The new owners who had no idea what he had done for the previous regime, treating him like any other artist in their service. Until in a sudden burst of energy, DC freed him from the drudgery. Didn’t he feel that his new position at DC afforded him a chance to be in control of his own creations and destiny, as compared to his time with Marvel where his creations were taken from him and controlled by the dictates of his corporate superiors? Though this may be overly dramatic, we do know that the loss of control of his characters was paramount among the reasons for Kirby leaving Marvel. Kirby’s view of Marvel had become an “us against them” situation. As an aside, unfortunately, DC was not to prove all that “free” where Kirby’s creations were concerned.
From this historical epilogue, Kirby now shows us the world of 1970,a modern world, where a warrior is sent to an unlikely planet to stop the spread of evil by the Deadly Darkseid. The planet Earth has been chosen as the “third world” upon which New Genesis and Apokolips would wage one of their skirmishes in a Cosmic cold war? In the real world, the West and East were locked in an indirect skirmish of their own, our soldiers sent to a small insignificant patch of land called Viet Nam, one in a long list of indirect battles between democracy and Communism known as the Cold War. Jack had jumped forward to a world well recognized by the readers, a battle raging not of our making, and we are helpless to end it.
Kirby, realizing he must first and foremost also tell a riveting adventure builds his suspense by hinting at what happened between the birth of these two great worlds and the cold war that exists today. By not telling it linearly, he allows all the participants little secrets and big secrets that push the tension and draw in the reader He hints at a prior conflict and some unholy maneuver that presents the parties from direct contact. When Kirby does get around to telling the story of Highfather’s and Darkseid’s rise to power, he fills in a history that was all too real for him and mankind in the Forties.
The prior war between New Genesis and Apokolips begins when a small raiding party from Apokolips, led by the Germanic Steppenwolf, attacks an unsuspecting New Genesis couple, killing the woman. We find that this attack was actually suggested by the more cunning Darkseid, in an effort to start a wider war. Did not World War 2 start when the forces of Germany attacked and captured several neighboring countries, all with the backing and connivance of the Soviet Union.
It turns out that Darkseid has actually planned the raid and the man thought killed survives. Izaya the warrior than sets his troops upon the soldiers of Steppenwolf and thus a great war is begun. This war goes back and forth as technology and counter technologies take their bloody toll. When the scientists of New Genesis create a”planet killer” bomb called the Impacter, Darkseid realizes that the continuance of the war is futile, so he asks for a truce. Izaya in horror over the destruction being caused flees into the wilderness until he comes across a great stone monolith. Izaya screams in defiance “If I am Izaya the Inheritor—what is my inheritance? And in a great blast from a fiery hand, the answer comes—The Source. Knowing further battle is futile, Izaya accepts Darkseid’s proposal of a truce.
Though not exact, the parallels between this and WW2 are easy to spot. The two sides battle to an ever increasing mutual destruction until the Allies create a planet killer of their own. After the destruction of Hiroshima, Japan sues for peace. In reality the atomic bomb did end the war with one side victorious, but history has shown that dropping the bomb was as much to signal the Soviet Union to cease aggression and hostilities as it was to defeat Japan. And in reality, the bomb only increased the Soviet will to control.
At Potsdam, the combined forces meet to carve up the remains of Europe. To settle differences between the feuding sides, a Pact is proposed where Germany would be cut up and divided between the nations. Each must give in a little to get something. Thus is achieved a shaky peace.
In Kirby’s tale, he simply changes the exchange of land into the more Biblical and literarily dramatic exchange of sons, but the result is the same; a cessation of hostilities and a promise to maintain their own secure areas. By compromising and allowing some to live under a despot so that some could live under the banner of freedom, the larger war was averted. But just as Kirby railed against Chamberlain’s acquiescence at Munich, Highfather knew that the Pact could never last. It is the nature of the despot to seek to expand their influence over the rest. It was just a matter of time before an attempt into the neutral territories would create tensions and open conflict result.
“Good and evil are always in contention, and each will forever try to cancel out the other. This lies behind the path we all tread. We live our lives out making the decisions that will clear up the dividing line between good and evil.”
This brings us back to the present day stories of the Fourth World where we see that the cold war between New Genesis and Apokolips has expanded into a neutral territory, the planet Earth. Darkseid had kidnapped some humans in the hope of finding the anti-life equation, and Orion of New Genesis is sent to stop him, and the fate of Earth is insignificant. Yet they do not face each other directly. Not unlike Korea, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and other small countries caught in the philosophical war between the East and the West. One side makes a move and the other side must retaliate in an endless chess match cycle that eventually destroys the host country.
In an allegory, many times people are merely symbols of real people, events, places or concepts. This humanization gives them form and depth with which we can easily recognize and react in the manner that the author wishes us to.
“There’s got to be a variety of characters in order to make clear and evaluate your own social values. So I had my own cast.”
As was common at the time, almost any mention of a cruel dictator would raise the specter of Adolph Hitler, and Kirby’s tale was no different. Jack often spiced these stories with Nazi codewords and quotes. But Darkseid in my opinion wasn’t a Hitler. Steppenwolf was the standin for Hitler, and like Hitler died at the end of the middle war. Drakseid was much more philosophical and Machiavellian than Hitlers’ straightforward boorishness. Steppenwolf was the fist in the face, while Darkeid was the shiv in the back. He reminds me more of Joseph Stalin, and the network of Soviet duplicity, and it seems that Kirby’s references are more Soviet style despotism than Hitler’s nationalistic fervor. Hitler was trying to raise Germany, while Stalin’s evil was much more personal and ideological. Nowhere do we get the feeling that Darkseid cared one whit for Apokolips and its people, they were simply cattle for the slaughter in the service of Darkseid himself. He didn’t want land, or wealth, he wants control of the very thought process of his subjects, this strikes me as more in line with the way Kirby would view Communism. When Khrushchev said “we will bury you” he wasn’t talking militarily, he was talking from a rot emanating from our insides; the destruction not of our homes but our way of life and philosophy of freedom and independence. This is a big difference between Darkseid and Kirby’s other great megalomaniac Dr. Doom. Even Dr. Doom had a soft spot for his beloved Latveria.
“Darkseid is what we mean when we say “the powers that be”; not satanic, not merely the devil. He is what we mean when we say “them” but what we really mean is “us”. Darkseid is what happens when everybody is asleep. Darkseid catches you off guard; he isn’t reckless he is far from being a raving lunatic with his finger on the trigger. In fact, he is just the opposite. He is the perfect rational man that we put into power because we are either too lazy to pay attention or we’re too occupied to worry about such details.”
Though Jack did pepper his tales with Nazi allusions, such as comparing DeSaad’s Happyland camp to the Nazi concentration camps, the actual methods used were more similar to the mind breaking techniques used in Korea or the Soviet gulag system. The idea was to break the will and spirit more than the body.
In allegories it’s not always easy to pigeonhole every actor and point to his real life counterpart-either a person or a country or a concept. Darkseid is easy, we all recognize the bad guy and the role he plays, Kirby said think of him as “the dark side of the moon.” Good guys are sometimes more nuanced. Does Orion represent a specific country or person or concept? I don’t think so, he is clearly the hero, but he is an imperfect hero. He doesn’t represent the American way of life, his calling is more emotional than patriotic, though I do think Kirby saw America as an imperfect concept. Orion was a junkyard dog, complete with floppy ears and a snarl. He is a warrior born, not one forced by circumstance. He shares aspects with the East European freedom fighters, in that he came from a place of madness and wants to get out. His battles are internal, a rage boils in him and he can only control it thru a mechanical construct. His battle is a search for identity, to see just where he really fits in, the fight to reconcile his opposing natures without flying apart. He is one of Kirby’s more complicated characters, there are no easy answers. But his instincts are good and he knows right from wrong. Through the years many of Kirby’s heroes have been aspects of Kirby himself. Is Orion part Jack Kirby? the battler fighting to get out? Perhaps somewhat, but not so one can clearly say he is Kirby personified. Maybe he was Jack’s father.
“Orion is your old man. He was half monster and half good guy. How many scars does your old man come home with at the end of his day’s work? Orion is a reflection of that. A guy who was scarred, but wouldn’t show you.”
He does share inner rages with Jack, but from different sources. Perhaps Orion’s warrior face is Kirby trying to show the messiness of war. His way of letting people know that war can’t be prettied up and made palatable. As Robert E. Lee said “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”
“The key element of my story was Orion, who left his evil world to find his true roots, which were embedded in the planet of Highfather. “….Orion went to the place he thought he belonged, and he tried to find the people to whom he really meant something” “…I believe, in every person. There comes an inner explosion which gives us the strength of ten; and nobody is prepared for that-even Darkseid.”
Orion’s constant companion was Lightray; as brash, exuberant and optimistic as Orion was sullen and dour. Lightray was Kirby’s ode to unbridled enthusiasm and hope. He had an innocent and trusting spirit. His job was to show the other side to Orion and offer another choice away from Darkseid. Darkseid hated his cheerfulness and optimism. Lightray was the angel of our better nature Lincoln espoused.
“Lightray, of course is a light-hearted character, and enjoyed life; and we see people like that every day. They cause no harm, and they devise and make use of all the wonderful diversions that lighten our lives. What they can’t find for amusement, they will create for amusement. They will not live their lives in vain; they will try to enjoy life.”
Highfather is another interesting character. First seen as the warrior king Izaya, he makes a Biblical trek into the wilderness and returns the philosophical leader with a direct connection to the well of knowledge known as the Source. The graphics are straight out of Cecil B DeMille’s Ten Commandments. The black hair and beard now turned white and the long flowing robes and shepard’s staff of a flock leader- a Moses. The Source is shown as a flaming hand much like the one that wrote the commandments. He, more than any character, was Kirby’s vision of goodness. But he was not perfect, which reflects Kirby’s Jewish roots. The Jewish kings were always presented as good, but flawed.
“Highfather is our conception of a being who gives us our total goodness, and of course that being comes with many names, in many languages on our own earth. Highfather- the opposite of Darkseid–receives Orion, who is his own true son. Of course that heightens the situation and makes it ready for adventure.”
Does that make Highfather a rabbi? Perhaps to some extent, but I see him as more of a warrior king like David or Saul. He definitely draws from Kirby’s religious nature, but Highfather was not a weak, pacifistic Mahatma Ghandi type, no, he was more of a Jefferson, secure in the knowledge that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Highfather knew and understood war, and he didn’t flinch from his duties, and that was to send Orion into the dragons’ mouth.
“..but, as good as he is, Highfather is betrayed by his own overconfidence that peace is everlasting. Like Prime Minister Chamberlain. Highfather learns that wisdom and kindness are not always good positions to keep in the face of a mortal enemy. Highfather failed his own people because he could not conceive that Darkseid would go to war again. In his mind a pact is a pact, but to Darkseid, it is a means to accomplish an end.
I think if Highfather symbolizes any one thing, it is that man can rise above his barbarian/warrior persona and become unto a God, but it must be thru a rite of passage that leads him to faith and goodness; perhaps a little Franklin Roosevelt battling thru paralysis to become an inspirational leader. Only one person in the Fourth World saga actually had direct contact with the Source, while others, such as the evil Darkseid, and the faithless Metron were stopped from reaching the Source by a barrier. Is this Kirby’s way of saying that power and knowledge have limits and the next step can only be achieved through absolute faith? Is this not the most basic tenet of most religions? Unfortunately Highfather was never fleshed out by Kirby so he remains unfinished in my mind.
Into this dysfunctional family is thrown a fourth element, the son of Highfather given over to Darkseid to raise as his own. Scott Free is man’s eternal desire to be free. He has a love of freedom that no ideology can bend to its will. This is the power that would bring down the Berlin Wall piece by piece. This is the strength of will that all dictators know must be tamped down and destroyed if they are to hold power. His is the purity of consciousness that draws people to him, and transforms evil and doubt into purpose.
“Mister Miracle, the magician, became his own magic. He was the one Orion was traded for, and he would never be the kind of character Darkseid would ever consider an ally.”
Himon is another iconic creation; part liberator, part mentor, part revolutionary. As a liberator, he seems to mirror the brave religious underground of Central Europe who helped ferry people under the bridges and around the barb wire. He was the hope that springs from religion at its most basis level. And the fervor with which Darkseid’s troops track him remind me of the fear that faith can undo despots and tyranny. Kirby uses a similar setting when Wonderful Willik tells the lowlies that “they have cornered a worm among you.(Himon) “eating at your lives and spirit and meritorious work.” Note the connection between spirit and work and remember that Communists believed that man was fulfilled only thru work and that religion was an “opiate of the masses” that dulled their enthusiasm and destroyed free will. Kirby seemed to be reaching for a Judeo-Christian vibe in the Himon story. Himon is shown as being pacifistic in his response to attempts at executing him. He never physically fights back, he simply vanishes. When Himon takes Scott to his den the group image resembles the Last Supper of Christ, even to the point of having Kreetin (a great name) deny his allegiance to Himon- much like Peter of Christ- after Himon is captured and led away to be tried. . Is this a real intent of Kirby the Jew, or simply dramatic license? The mentor aspect is easier. Himon plays a large part in Scott Free’s life, he encourages the kids to blossom and seek their freedom, and it is Himon that shows them the path to hope. How similar in nature to how Jack Kirby described his mentor, Harry Slonaker.
“He thought that if he gave kids responsibility it would give them hope, and there was so little hope then.”. “We learned responsibility. For the first time it was in our own hands, and we learned how to deal with it.”
How similar to Himon’s last words to Scott Free. “If he leaves Apokolips, he will find the universe.” Revolutionary in that he taught the children of his coven that there was a different life available, but they would have to fight for it, and he taught them how to create the machinery needed for this fight, not of the warlord but of the mystic and dreamers as seen in Aurelie’s “mind-video” that allows her to dance and play. Himon says that “Auralie’s thoughts are beautiful! She creates beauty! Imagine doing this on a world like Apoklips. Himon knows that to defeat tyranny one must first free his or her own mind of evil ideas. John Lennon said it best “You tell me it’s the institution Well, you know, You better free you mind instead”
There is a cryptic side to Himon. Several times he bemoans the fact that he somehow created Darkseid, or at least the factors that led to his rise. “I fostered Darkseid’s power! I must be here at its end” was just one example. Kirby never showed a specific connection between the two so we can only speculate as to what he meant. I wonder if this was Kirby’s way of acknowledging that the factors that led to Communism were noble, and no one could have seen that it would be much worse than the rule of the Czars. The people who overthrew the Czar wanted freedom just as much as any other people. Was there a back story that would show that Darkseid’s family came to power when Himon and the people overthrew another evil dynasty? I don’t know.
Himon was also a wonderful foil to the cold calculating Metron, Even the physical differences where Himon is soft and cuddly vs. the icy Metron’s angular and rigid form. Metron was one of Kirby’s unemotional observer archetype, but he was more, he was science run amok. He was the fear that science was moving so fast that we could no longer control our human side. Metron was amoral- he cared not which side he was making weapons for, or what the consequences. Metron was based on the cold aloof Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project who once famously said; “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” To Metron the time to worry was after the barn door was opened. Yet Kirby was also aware that for humanity to grow, Metron’s knowledge was essential, so Highfather kept him close, and somewhat restrained. Eisenhower’s Military Industrial complex speech might be a good example of Kirby’s concern. Metron was also Jack Kirby’s unending search for answers; he always turned to Metron when highlighting the philosophical/spiritual context for the Fourth World. Robby Reed, on his essential blog “Dial B for Blog”-now at 600 posts– took this Metron as Kirby idea even further.
The Newsboy Legionnaires remind me of Jack the person, but the character who reminds me most of Jack the visionary artist is METRON of the New Gods. It might seem strange to say that — but think about it. Metron is a man who sits in a chair that can go anywhere in time and space. Isn’t that just like JACK KIRBY sitting at his drawing table, on his own private “mobius chair”?
The resemblance grows stronger if you know that Jack did a sort of prototype for Metron’s Mobius Chair in Alarming Tales #2, November 1957, in a story called “Donnegan’s Daffy Chair.” In this story, Donnegan is a janitor who borrows a “daffy” magical chair that takes him flying far beyond earth, and into outer space.
As you can see below, Donnegan is a dead ringer for young Jack Kirby, and his “daffy” chair comes complete with its own built-in mini drawing board! Metron should consider adding one to HIS chair. Or at least a seat belt.
So you see, Jack Kirby IS alot like Metron! When Jack sat on his chair, pencil in hand, he could travel anywhere and everywhere. And, as we all know, Jack Kirby not only “could” — Jack Kirby DID!
Wherever his characters went, Jack went there first in his imagination. He knew those people first. When he put them down, they had already lived, both in his imagination, AND in his own real life. Jack Kirby — THE TRUE ARTIST — used the medium of comic books to envision different periods of his life, creating new worlds each time he refined that vision.
Robby Reed’s favorite action figure
Glorious Godfrey is an enigma. We know he was based on both Billy Graham, and Arthur Godfrey. While Billy Graham was the great evangelical of the middle century, who wheedled his way into the very seats of power-a harbinger of the religious right. Godfrey was the most famous pitchman in America- the man who sold America everything from cigarettes, to shaving cream. A man trusted by the mothers of America because he had a pleasant manner and calm voice. But in reality he had a bad attitude and a penchant for firing on a short fuse. He was also accused of being anti-semitic, though it seems unfounded. Kirby had an innate fear of Christian leaders who sought political power. His view towards Christianity was similar to many elderly Jews. He loved the teachings and the philosophy that are the bedrock of Christ’s teachings, but he feared an organization that once it obtained financial and political power has been easily swayed by the current powers that be. A philosophy too easily swayed to fit into whatever mandate sought by the ruling party. Many Jews remembered how long it took for the Pope to speak out against Hitler, Mussolini, and the holocaust or how easy it was for Southern preachers to find arcane phrases in the Old Testament to buttress the rights of slave holders. Jack seemed to fear that a smooth talker with fanatical religious beliefs might come along and take control; a fear that echoes even today.
Terrible Turpin, is obvious – he is us. A common man who reaches a turning point when he says enough is enough. He is the collateral damage of wars between super powers. He is also the spirit of survival. He is the undying spirit of humanity, as much as Captain America or Sgt. York. In reality he is the fireman running upstairs as the tenants are running down the stairs; the cop on the beat who puts his life on the line everyday, or the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save his buddies. To many, Ben “Terrible” Turpin was Jack Kirby as everyman. It was Kirby who stood up to the cosmic mayhem, just as he did the Nazi’s. Bruce Timm, when animating the Fourth World in the Superman cartoons, spotlighted this idea.
TJKC: Was Ben Turpin based on Jack?
Bruce: Oh, definitely. Absolutely, it was based on Jack. That’s something DC Comics had been doing for a while anyway, using the stuff that Jack created: The Fourth World characters, Intergang, an all that stuff. They’ve really been introducing that stuff in the Superman comics recently. We thought that’s a natural; we love Jack’s stuff anyway. The Turpin character in the comics didn’t look anything like Jack but I decided it would be kind of fun, kind of a little throwaway tribute to Jack, to make the character look like Jack.
“Now no soldier in his right mind would face a battalion of Panzers (German tanks) alone; even one would be suicide, and I just said that like I myself had done it. Some people think I’m crazy, but I never did anything like that, but there were guys who did. You can read about them in history books, and that’s who Turpin is. But still, he is the essential character of all mankind, to stand up against all odds because nobody else would do that job. There’s always one who will, and when we run out of people like that, that’s when we’re all going to be in trouble.”
I should mention Superman, though not a Jack Kirby creation, Jack does involve him into the Fourth World aura. To Jack Superman was not an invulnerable do-gooder standing outside the world looking in. Superman had great powers but to Jack they made him lonely, isolated and questioning as to his rightful place in society. Jack gave him a depth no other artist/writer managed. When asked about his Superman Jack answered.
“The bottom line involves choices. Neither gods nor humans have ever stood calmly in a minefield forever. Good or evil, they are bound to choose. And when they do, you will see the truth of all that motivates us. As a thinking being, you have the obligation to choose. If the fate of all mankind were in your hands, what would your decision be? “As a writer and an artist, I’ve drawn my answer.”
I hesitate to mention the Black Racer, but I guess I must. The hesitancy is because I have never figured out what role, what symbolism or what exactly Jack was getting at. Obviously he represents death but what aspect. In other mythical tales death played a role in separating heroes from the rest. Hela took the heroes to Valhalla while sending the rest to Hades. Judeo/Christian myths are similar with a separate heaven and hell. But Jack never shows us any reward in his tales for a valiant and glorious life, or punishment in the hereafter for the evil. Death was as random as it seems in real life. Perhaps Jack was becoming existential in his later years. His battle scenes remind me of a lyric from the Broadway Show “Civil War”.
”And the heroes and the cowards look the same when they have fallen by the gun”.
But I don’t see Jack as existential, he was an optimist, The use of a paraplegic Viet Nam Veteran as the personification of death makes me think that Black Racer was his reaction to seeing the constant rain of dying youth on our TV’s at news hour. The few times we see the Racer offers no clues as to his purpose in the tapestry. He is intriguing but I think I may agree with Mark Evanier when he told Jack that it was a good concept, but probably not at this time. Of course Kirby had his own reasons, and I’m sorry I can’t divine this one; it’s probably a good one. His costume needs to go; a Black skier in medieval armor is too much even for me.
Several players seemed to be fevered images of real people from Kirby’s life. Funky Flashman and House Roy were obvious spoofs of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, and their evil doing was hucksterism in the service of Darkseid. While some, their natures were revealed just by their names: DeSaad, Vermin Vundabar, the Justifiers, Beautiful Dreamer, Simyan and Mokkari.
From this point on it seems that the stories were observations and morality plays based on Kirby’s response to world events and social currents of change swirling around him. In the very first Jimmy Olsen story Kirby shows us a mysterious Wild Area populated by long haired mystics, and motorcycle thugs, and a wild psychedelic underground government research center conducting crazy experiments. Is this not Kirby responding to the hippies, and counter culture, and the backyard motorcyclists who bothered him incessantly and the scientific research that was changing the landscape, some for the good and sometimes not.
Kirby spends a lot of time detailing the differences in the educational facilities of both New Genesis and Apokolips. New Genesis children are shown outside in a casual almost Platonic setup with flowers and birds and a happy exchange of ideas, while those on Apokolips are shown huddled in the clutches of Granny Goodness, a sadistic warden beating the children into strict obedience and indoctrination into the ways of Darkseid. Many are the stories of the time showing experimental open classes in enlightened US schools as compared to the harsh, Soviet model where children were taken from their parents and trained for specific tasks, and indoctrinated into Communist philosophy. Kirby wasn’t always subtle, his rendition was much more graphic and terrifying, but no less obvious to its template. It should be noted that New Genesis seems more of a hippy flower power commune than a real world cityscape. Perhaps Jack bought into the love, peace and happiness claptrap somewhat. Apokolips for its template think more of the coal pits and slag heaps torn into the side of the West Virginia mountains combined with huge burn pits belching smoke and brimstone into the smog filled Ukrainian rubble.
The control of the media and by its nature the access to knowledge also gets the full Kirby treatment. The first of Darkseid’s fifth columnists was Morgan Edge, who has taken over the Daily Planet and controlled the news network. Several attempts at mind control and Manchurian Candidate style stories appear, only to be defeated by New Genesis’ agents. Kirby even takes on the right wing religious ascension by the likes of Billy Graham and right wing hucksters with characters like Glorious Godfrey and Funky Flashman. The Funky story is also a not so subtle jab at Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Instances where Jack threw in personal swipes were few but obvious.
Perhaps in response to Israel promoting the role of women in their military, Jack introduced a fighting squad of “female furies”. Led by Kirby’s most intimidating female character Big Barda, an example of East German style chemically induced Olympic athlete. Originally a fighting force for Darkseid, they switched sides and joined Mister Miracle in his battles against Darkseid’s minions. With the likes of dominating Lashina and lunatic Mad Harriet they were as nasty and as formidable as any Kirby military group ever seen. It’s a close call whether it was safer to be a friend or an adversary of this group. They bickered more that the Thing or Torch ever did. Big Barda was Nick Fury in drag, with a body by Jayne Mansfield, a face modeled after songbird Lainie Kazan, and a disposition like Alexander Karelin, she was heads and shoulders above any fighting female drawn by Jack. She was the Goddess Sif, on steroids. Amazingly she didn’t smoke a cigar. Her protectiveness of Scott Free was eerily reminiscent of Roz and her Jackson.
The real female furies of Israel
“Big Barda is the female star of the story, and a girl who is both vital and brave, and has everything we might want to find in the perfect female. I tried to create a female vision of this sort, and I think I found it in Big Barda.”
The antiwar movement received Jack’s attention, not only with the pacifistic Forever People, but in one of Kirby’s best stories. In New Gods #6 entitled the Glory Boat he presents a family broken apart because of the inability of a hawkish father and a peacenik son to unite. Thrown into an Apokoliptian nightmare, the son proves his courage and the father faces his fears in a poignant story faced by many American families with sons hiding in Canada, and thrown in jail for refusing induction into the military. Kirby fought this same battle.
Neal tells of Kirby’s feelings on the Viet Nam war:
“You’d classify him (Jack) as a liberal Democrat. During Vietnam he was very much against the whole thing; right from the start. It was no mystery to anyone in the family how he felt about it. I had some friends over, and we were all watching the draft lottery on TV. He told me. “Listen, if you draw a low number, and want to finish school in Canada we’ll support you 100%.” He didn’t want me to go at all.”
Terrible Turpin aka Jack Kirby – Playing with matches
The sadness and bravery of freedom fighters around the world bent on defying both East and West gets its due in Kirby’s best tale, “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin” from New Gods #8. It tells of a Metropolis cop who finally can’t take anymore of these two super powered foes battling it out in his town, leaving death and destruction behind them. He says enough is enough and wades in to stop the fight barehanded. Despite his being human and the enemy super powered he holds his own until the battle ends. with Turpin looking much less for wear. His bravery is never maudlin or phony, his rage is understandable and his action laudatory. For once the super powered beings realize that their fight impacts others and not in a good way. Nothing reminds me of this story as much as the photo of a lone Czech patriot standing up to a Soviet tank in the middle of a square. Is there anything more powerful than one person standing up and saying “no more”? The bracketing scenes of Orion spilling his guts to Lightray are gut wrenching and provocative.
The country was burning over a fight for equality, and Kirby had to address it head on.
The East would point to the race problem in America whenever the hypocritical West would belittle the East for the living conditions of its people. In “The Bug” from New Gods #9 Kirby presents a view of New Genesis’ racist underbelly. While the elites live on a beautiful floating city high above the planet, a lowly group of scavengers and worker bees live on the surface. They are hated by the swells in the sky. They live off the refuse from above and one of them yearns to be free and better himself. It is hard to read of Orion and other New Genesians spitting out their hatred for this race, and call for an ethnic cleansing, but Kirby needed to show that no one is 100% good or evil. New Genesis was a planet just like ours populated with people who were super in power but capable of smallness in their hearts. This may even be a nod to the internment of the American Japanese population during World War 2 (including his letterer extraordinaire Ben Oda) and the easy bigotry shown during our fight to free other people bent and broken by prejudice and bigotry. Surely Kirby’s pride as a Jew helped him out during his darkest hours in Europe.
The art ranks right at the top of Kirby’s long career. He used the whole canvas, the backgrounds and the location scenes were astonishingly dazzling. His machinery, especially in Mister Miracle was awesome to behold. His characters had mass, and depth. There doesn’t seem to be any throw-away panels, every inch is used to tell the story. Jack took a new interest in fashions, where all too often during his Marvel days Kirby would fall back on drawing fashions from the Forties, Kirby seems determined to keep these series topical and up to date. When he does do a throw back, such as Terrible Turpin, and his derby, it seems like a perfect choice for the old-school personality of the bulldog policeman. His characters had the ability to shock you, yet still remain true to their nature. In the final issue of New Gods, while Kalibak and Orion are fighting, we see Darkseid watching from afar. When he realizes that DeSaad has unfairly assisted Kalibak, Darkseid confronts him and in his anger wishes DeSaad out of existence. Is this Paternal feelings or just a semblance of fair play from deep within his evil bowels, we really don’t know. Perhaps it is simply that Darkseid can’t abide someone else playing god. That is reserved for Darkseid alone. Whatever the reason, it shows another side to his evil. Kirby explained that this new found depth came about because the story propelled him to new heights. Kirby’s background characters and figures took on greater importance and energy.
“In the New Gods, (short hand for all the titles) I became aware of the amount of detail that was important in telling the story. By detail, I mean environmental detail, background detail, the crowds, the buildings, the feeling for the times. In doing so, I found my drawings tightening. I found my drawings becoming more illustrative and better than I’d ever done them before. I have the New Gods to thank for that.”
The one overarching problem with talking about the Fourth World is that Kirby never had a chance to finish it. The Hunger Dogs, done much later seems too slapdash and cartoony to me to be of real help. It doesn’t even deal with Scott Free, and Metron and the Forever People and the fate of so many others. Could Kirby have worked out the anti-climatic fall of Communism of the Soviet Union to fit his need for a climatic ending for an adventure tale? Could he envision Darkseid acknowledging defeat due to failure of his philosophical convictions? Would Intergang, and the other thugs go underground like the Russian mafia? This is of course a weakness in making people symbols of philosophies; an individual can easily adapt and accept change, ideologies can’t.
It’s really hard to overstate the role that the immediate times played on the tapestry that Kirby was weaving. The social upheaval and the scientific changes occurring almost daily was the fodder that kept Kirby’s epic so enjoyable. It was like we were looking into some psychedelic mirror that turned and twisted the world and then broke into a thousand different shards reflecting aspects back at us. The final words on this should probably be Jack’s.
“I wouldn’t say my drawings were illustrations of any kind, but they were great comic drawings, and they fulfilled the kind of goal I was reaching for in all my years of doing comics. In doing Captain America, I’d concentrate on doing a few figures, and tell the story correctly. The figures were active; they bounced all over the page, but they needed very little background. In telling the story of the New Gods, I told an entire story. I gave the entire picture of the events which transpired. In that way, I feel I have made a giant step in dealing with my own creative ability, my own feelings for people, and my own vision of the future…. So I consider this a great accomplishment, in the field itself. It was a story that was fully rounded, with people, with backgrounds and with the satisfaction of innovation.”
“To bring this to a conclusion, I’d like to say that I felt the New Gods were our gods. They were not the gods of the medieval ages; not the Greek gods; nor the gods that came before them. The New Gods were the kind of people that made our own millennium. We live in the age of the New Gods, and the New Gods are still developing. So I felt they represented you and I, and the people we know; the people of our time. They represented the 1970’s and they’ll probably go on from there.”
I lied; the final word will be by Willie Shakespeare, who said a few words about us and gods. “What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!”
Jack Kirby gave us our Gods.
But interpretation is not for me alone. Artist James Romberger wrote some words on the New Gods and its follow-up stories.
by James Romberger
from the Jack Kirby Quarterly #15, 2008
A young mind is blown, from Forever People #2
The Fourth World is Jack Kirby’s grand concept, the project in which he invested the prime of his skills as well as his highest hopes and ambitions. Kirby’s saga debuted in 1970. He hit the ground running; within a few issues his writing became more confident and he began to draw with unmatched clarity, grace and power, brought into focus by Mike Royer’s exemplary inking. Kirby put forth a very thoughtful and humane writing that helped form many of his reader’s views of the world. In this way he transcended the entertainment realm of comics to create something much more meaningful.
He filtered his own experiences with violence into a philosophy that extended across his epic, from Orion’s attempts to overcome his aggressive nature and the examination of the principles of conscientious objection in “The Glory Boat,” to Mr. Miracle and Big Barda’s rejection of their military programming. In Kirby’s comics pathos is contrasted with irony to create relief, a classical formula he used effectively. The best stories of the 4th World read as literature.
For a variety of reasons, the 4th World was cancelled by DC before the end of 1972. The loss of his developing masterpiece as he was just reaching a career peak of performance hit Kirby like a hammer blow, according to those close to him. He went on to create other significant works, but rarely again touched the glorious synthesis of story and art seen in the best of the New Gods. DC owns the characters and concepts and uses them in combination with their other corporate properties. In 1982 DC’s Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz offered Kirby creator credit and a percentage of royalties for the Fourth World for redesigning it for use in the Super Powers TV cartoons and toys, a gesture that meant a good deal to Kirby and his wife Roz. DC also offered him twenty-three pages to write and draw a conclusion to his story in the final issue of reprints of his original New Gods comics. Within the limitations he was given, Kirby produced one of his last great stories, “On the Road to Armagetto”. Unfortunately, it was rejected by DC. Kirby amended the story, and it was inked and lettered by Mike Royer. Its pages were later distributed in altered form throughout Kirby’s 1985 graphic novel, Hunger Dogs. Sadly, with DC’s recent reprinting of Hunger Dogs in their 4th World Omnibus Volume 4, that story remains unavailable to be read as he intended.
For his conclusion, Kirby chose to focus on something meaningful that was possible to bring to succinct resolution. One of the most significant themes present in Kirby’s complex, interwoven plotting in the 4th World is that he absorbed the aspirations of the psychedelic movement, and recast it in his own image. In 1970 Kirby was aware that a key demographic for his work was the college-age kids that had embraced his Marvel work. He created characters for DC that were geared to and reflected that market. The first of Kirby’s new comics completed on his board was The Forever People #1. The dreams of the flower children had been occluded by Charlie Manson and Altamont the year before but you couldn’t tell from the optimism Kirby invested in his super-freaks.
The Forever People is about a small unit of young New Gods who join their planet’s war, but deal with crises using technology, compassion and their individual skills. The Forever People as superheroes are an idealized version of what hippies should be: calm, gentle and intelligent. In cases where they are unable to cope, they join to form the Infinity Man, an entity of indeterminate power and personality, however, this device was diminished as Kirby progressed. Simultaneously, Kirby took over a staid DC title, Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen. Square Jimmy suddenly seemed truly young, hurtling at breakneck speed into Kirby’s ominous interzone of psycho-cosmic warfare. Kirby came up with many inventive ideas from the world around him, distilled from current events, hit films, and scientific magazines. He explored the then-nascent science of genetics with his “DNA Project,” a U.S. Government operation that could endlessly generate the types of imaginative Jimmy mutations the title was notorious for, and also created “The Hairies,” a commune of technologically advanced “DNAlien” clone hippies who travel a tunnel complex called the “Zoomway,” in a dragon-decorated missile carrier known as “The Mountain of Judgment.”
The Hairies’ Mountain of Judgement, 1970
Kirby’s hippie characters may have been inspired by the real-life pioneering exponents of psychedelia, the Merry Pranksters. This may be supported by the fact that the Pranksters were, like the Hairies, the result of a Government experiment. Prankster founders Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), Ken Babbs, and Stewart Brand (later editor of the Whole Earth Catalog) all attended Stamford University in the late 1950s and there participated in tests of LSD by MK-ULTRA, a long-running mind-control program overseen by scientists under the wing of the CIA. Kesey and his fellow subjects were so impressed by their experiences on acid that they became advocate distributors of the drug and facilitated the rapid spread of psychedelic culture. They believed that LSD could change the world. They threw the earliest public Acid Test parties in San Francisco in collaboration with the Grateful Dead. The Pranksters’ acid-proselytizing tour of America on their psychedelic bus “Further” was reported by Tom Wolfe in stream-of-consciousness style in his famed 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Kirby’s Thor on Acid Test flyer, and the Merry Prankster’s bus Further, 1966
Kirby’s work figures into the Prankster’s saga: Wolfe writes that Kesey is frequently consumed in reading Marvel Comics, and a Kirby drawing of Thor is prominent in a Prankster poster for an 1965 Acid Test. Kirby is one of the most important psychedelic artists of that era. It has rarely been suggested that Kirby took LSD himself, but his combinations of solid spatial and figurative composition with abstract technorganic design in the eidetic pageantry of comics like Thor bear up under scrutiny magnificently whilst tripping. Kirby’s assistant at the time, Steve Sherman, laughingly said that Jack’s young staff “gave him lots of pot” (The Jack Kirby Collector #6). When interviewed, Kirby cautioned about drug experimentation: “I believe that any sort of stimulant or irritant used for any sort of motivation…it’s kind of a wild thing without guidelines…I won’t hang anyone up on a gallows who uses drugs, but I won’t respect them, either” (TJKC #42). For his family-friendly DC comics, Kirby’s cosmic consciousness catalyst is not LSD but the Mother Box, a technological link to “the ultimate mystery, The Source” that must be built, and its wisdom earned, by its bearer. Mind-expanding effects are also exhibited by Forever People member Serafin’s Cosmic Cartridges, all of which have properties relating to “all there is.”
The Forever People’s driver is Big Bear, who resembles aspects of both Kesey and Neal Cassady, the Beat legend who joined the Pranksters as navigator. Another key Prankster figure, Cassady’s friend Carolyn Adams, known as “Mountain Girl,” has a 4th World equivalent in the Daisy May-outfitted Beautiful Dreamer. The magic bus “Further” can be seen reflected in The Mountain of Judgment of the nomadic Hairies. Jimmy Olsen witnesses several manifestations of the Acid Test music-lightshow multimedia events in the Hairies’ dance concerts and projections, one of which (Jimmy Olsen #134, p.12) incorporates a Kirby collage cut from photos of Jimi Hendrix that appeared in Life magazine (issue dated 10/03/1969). The Hairies are allied with the motorcycle gang the Outsiders, who might have reflected the Prankster’s brief involvement with the Hell’s Angels, but were also acknowledged by Jack as referencing the bikers who frequently ripped up the canyon below the Kirbys’ California home. In the end, Kirby’s characters are melds of many different sources, and even if Kesey’s crew were not a direct inspiration, Kirby’s origin for the Hairies mirrors the Pranksters’ covert genesis.
Kirby’s original series deliberately left many of the boundaries between his heroes and villains ambiguous. The Pact that secured the truce between Apokolips and New Genesis that would be broken by Scott Free and precipitate the events in Kirby’s storyline is itself a cold business: Highfather traded sons with Darkseid. Family values are strangely inversed in the 4th World. All along, Darkseid seems very concerned with the fate of his son, Orion, but strangely, Highfather seems disinterested in the concerns of his progeny, Scott Free aka Mister Miracle, who is raised in the hellish orphanage on Apokolips. The youngest of the New Gods is Esak; he appears to be at most nine years old. He does not seem to have parents, and is allowed to roam space and time as apprentice to the amoral scientist Metron in New Gods #4. In one of his other few appearances in the original comics in FP #7, Esak must beseech Highfather to save the Forever People; it is one of Jack’s gentlest scenes.
The clear view of Esak, from Forever People #7
But, Darkseid allows the Forever People to escape repeatedly, saying, “Greatness does not come from killing the young” (FP #8). When the hammer came, Kirby exiled the Forever People to a distant, verdant world and left the seemingly inevitable final battle between Darkseid and Orion hanging. Shorn of Jack’s fire, Mister Miracle limped to his belated wedding with Big Barda, presided over by a noncommittal Highfather. There was no acknowledgement of unresolved traumas such as Scott Free’s sacrifice for the sake of peace. Kirby was already elsewhere.
When in 1983 Jack was asked by DC to complete his saga in one chapter, he looked at what he had done more than a decade before and, out of all possibilities, chose the theme of the betrayal of ideals to close out his saga. The overriding theme that he saw in the New Gods tapestry is that he had hoped and believed that the young could and would tackle the evils of their day with ingenuity and compassion. As the promise of the sixties faded, these aspirations were not borne out. He watched expanded consciousness give way to drug addiction, sexual and racial equality slow in coming, wars beget more wars, the environment steadily worsen because of individual and corporate greed and exponential population growth. America was sliding through the Reagan Years. Jack’s initial, thoughtful response was a short allegory that left the mystery of his unfinished epic intact, but that condemned, with little equivocation, the failure of the generation in whom he had invested his hope.
Kirby did some of his best late-period art for “On the Road to Armagetto.” By this time Jack no longer drew supple, idealized figures; his characters seem compressed, reflecting his own physical aging, but for all that his drawing is no less vigorous. Despite the cartooniness Jack was veering towards, due in part to his most recent animation design efforts, there is none of Kirby’s usual humor in this piece. It’s dead serious. Kirby’s blackspotting becomes abstract and patterned, and the open outside borders create a vignette effect, as if the entire story is a nightmare. And truly, as much is hidden as is revealed in this oddly cinematic fever dream. In Jack’s finale, the enraged Orion is only seen in flashes as he infiltrates Apokolips’ capital Armagetto and incites the slum-dwelling Lowlies to revolution.
Darkseid watches his WMD experiments, postures, mugs, and spars with Himon. An obviously significant but out-of-panel character responsible for Micro-Mark nano-bombs is revealed to be a horribly disfigured, swollen-headed Esak. Metron has deserted the child for years to study in solitude. After an accident mutilates the boy, he is thoroughly corrupted and goes over to work for Darkseid. As the mob approaches, Darkseid turns tail and escapes, leaving Esak to face the killing machine Orion. Esak attempts to murder Orion’s posse, then testifies to his misfortunes
The Lowlies rise, from On the Road to Armagetto, 1982
Esak’s fall, from On the Road to Armagetto, 1982
The story Kirby originally submitted ended with the splash on page 23 of Orion on top of a pile of corpses, shooting the off-image Esak. This is Jack’s “holocaust borne on flowers”, his answer to the “nature vs. nurture” questions he had brought up with his DNA Project and the Pact. Orion’s upbringing is completely negated by his Apokoliptic genetic baggage. The flower children do not save the world, perhaps because New Genesis doesn’t care about or keep track of its children. This was intended to be Jack’s final word, then: a fatalistic burst of ultraviolence more akin to Sam Peckinpah and the Druillet books that he admired.
No doubt Kirby felt it was his prerogative to finish his epic in his own way. Over a long career he had proved time and time again that his ideas and instincts were sound. His problems occurred when he was being second-guessed. Still, after DC rejected the story, a second denial of his New Gods, Kirby persevered. The “piece of the action for redesign” deal DC gave him was unprecedented, so he did what he could to satisfy their wishes. The story mutated into an intro to Hunger Dogs. He added two moving pages wherein Orion regains his senses and absolves Esak, mitigating the darkness somewhat. The “child, fallen upon cruel days” grew away from the Source, but is forgiven. Orion witnesses the Source do a cosmetic makeover of Esak’s ravaged husk, saying, “Judge him as he was, not as he became.”
On one level Kirby apparently came to grips with his disappointment with the Hippie generation, on another, with the interruption of his opus. On yet another level he is still defiant, in effect disclaiming to the reader all of the presumptions made on his characters by others, and perhaps even what was to follow in the adulterated Hunger Dogs. The final printed graphic novel has its own merits, but reflects much interference with Kirby’s creative process. “On the Road to Armagetto” is Jack Kirby’s dark codetta to the New Gods, an apotheosis of unending conflict.”
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
BRAND NEW WORLD
By 1970, thousands of Americans were actively protesting the Vietnam War. There were numerous reasons why these protests took place. Some of the prominent ones included revelations that former President Lyndon Baines Johnson had misled the American people about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam in late 1964. The ending of college deferments, which previously had exempted most college students from the draft and service in Vietnam, further contributed to the protests. On April 30, 1970 President Nixon announced that the war was spreading into Cambodia, a neighbor of Viet Nam. America erupted. Colleges across the country staged a strike and shut down campuses, streets, traffic and commerce. On May 5, a stunned nation watched in horror as a small, and fearful band of National Guardsmen opened fire on a large group of boisterous and threatening group of coeds at Kent State University. For 13 seconds they fired round after round, and when the smoke cleared, four young Americans lay dead, dozens wounded and a nation staggered. Ten days later two more Americans were killed at Jackson State.
Moment of horror
On April 10, 1970, the music, and counter cultural world was staggered when Paul McCartney announced that after a yearlong period of dissension he was leaving the Beatles due to undisclosed “personal, business and musical differences.” The greatest songwriting team in history had come to an end. John was mad because he wanted to announce the split first, but had been talked out of it. His reaction to Paul’s announcement was “Shit, Paul’s a bloody f**king great PR man—maybe the best ever–to tie it into his own album’s release.” I think Jack might disagree with John as he considered Stan Lee the best PR man ever.
All good things must end – The new team
And like a rifle shot to the gut, Kirby’s defection likewise staggered the collected comic universe. Fanzines and comic conventions were ablaze with speculation as to Marvel’s continued success without Kirby. The comic creating team that dominated the Sixties had parted in discord. Kirby’s move to Los Angeles took awhile to settle out. After initially landing south in the land of Mickey Mouse, Jack soon moved north of the city to a place on Sapra Rd. The worst problem was the house was high on a hill, and below the house was an open area where motorcyclists practiced their sport. Despite numerous complaints from the hard-pressed Kirby’s, the owner refused to stop the noise. In his own way Kirby worked these motorcyclists into his tableau. The cycle riding Outsiders of the Wild Area were based on his abusive neighbors.
Jack and Roz finally moved pot, pans and drawing table to a new home in Thousand Oaks on Lynn Rd, high on the hills overlooking the valley to one side and the ocean on the other. Kirby loved the swimming pool. Despite the distance, fans and assorted kooks found their way to spend time with their king. Lisa would joke that “if Charles Manson came calling, Jack would let him in.” It was at this house that Jack, Mark, Steve, Neal, and Mike would hatch their schemes and act out their wild stories.
New Gods prototypes – New Gods #1
John Romita worried about the continuation of Marvel Comics. He thought Marvel might go under sans Kirby. “Kirby was doing more than artwork: he was bringing all sorts of things to the table. He was bringing characters, plots and inspiration to Stan. He was making Stan ten times a better writer and there’s no way to limit what you could give a guy like Jack. I would have given him whatever he wanted, but businessmen don’t see things that way.” Unknown at the time, Jack asked John Romita to join him at DC. John pondered the question, but when he asked his wife, she told him that if he went, he would always be in the shadow of Jack Kirby. John chose to remain with Stan Lee and not surprisingly was always viewed as Stan Lee’s lackey. John Buscema was more direct; “I’ll never forget when I walked into Stan’s office and heard that Jack left. I thought they were going to close up! (laughter) As far as I was concerned, Jack was the backbone of Marvel. John offered up another amazing anecdote of Kirby; “Well, Jack Kirby was very fast. Martin Goodman was upset that Jack Kirby was making so much money. He felt, “Kirby’s turning out so much work, let’s cut his rate.” That’s when Jack left Marvel and went over to DC.” Sounds like the logic of a bean counter.
The falling sales figures were scaring Martin Goodman. None of the new titles were catching on. Roy Thomas told Stan that he had received mail from readers asking for a sword and sorcery genre book. Nothing else was selling so Stan told Roy to write up a proposal for Martin Goodman to read. First, in the back of a horror title they threw in a sword and sorcery trial story. The story was written by Thomas and drawn by Barry Smith. Smith had returned to England due to his visa problem. Yet Marvel still sent him scripts to keep active. Goodman gave Thomas the ok on a new series and told him to get the rights to a property as cheaply as possible. After being disappointed with several properties, the rights to Robert Howard’s Conan practically fell into his lap. Goodman’s fear of the new title made it so that Thomas could not have his first choice of artists due to their high page rate. Thomas had wanted John Buscema, but ended up getting Barry Smith due to his being at the bottom of the page rate scale. Barry was put right to work on the new title. Coincidently, the first issue hit the stands the same month as Jack Kirby’s new titles at DC. Despite some poor initial sales, they stuck with it until it became Marvel’s sole success story of the early 1970’s. Its success did nothing to stem the loss from the other titles. Marvel continued down the hole of failure.
Jack Kirby roots to neo-romantic classicism – Barry became Windsor-Smith
Barry Smith was still living in Great Britain; working on his papers to return to the U.S. He found out about Kirby leaving Marvel from his friend Roy Thomas. It began; “There’s no way to say this but straight: Jack Kirby has left Marvel.” “Jack’s departure was cataclysmic to Stan and Marvel as a publishing entity. It affected me in no way whatsoever, I just wished him well. As to being treated fairly by the company that he co created, I’m not privy to the internal goings on that existed between Jack and Marvel management, but I would hazard a guess that if Jack was less of a romantic and more of a business man, he could have had anything he wanted from Marvel at the time that Jack felt the urge to split the “House of Ideas”. It’s a pretty good shot that Jack could have written his own ticket. But then again, if Kirby had more of a head for business, he probably wouldn’t have been the genius artist we have all benefited from. There’s a tragedy of some considerable proportion right there, Know what I mean?”
The failure in this case was not Kirby’s lack of business sense, in fact, with the facts we have Kirby made all the right moves. He used the little leverage he had and came out with the better contract. The failure was Marvels. The new management and some of the old failed to realize the real set-up and chose Stan Lee as architect rather than who many would consider the actual architect—Jack Kirby. They ended up with a new leader who could provide nothing to make a company grow, while Kirby continued his history of providing his employer with salable concepts. I have had people tell me that Marvel managed just fine after Kirby left. All I can say s that they should look at the sales charts and realize that for the next 8 years Marvel would flail about approaching bankruptcy. While the ten years earlier, while Kirby was there, the sales were a consistent rise to prominence.
Jack was busy organizing his characters and concepts for his new series. His first move was to contact Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman. After explaining that he was moving to DC where he would be in charge of a series of comics and he said he wanted them to be his assistants. They quickly agreed though they had no idea of how they could assist Kirby–but they certainly wanted to be a part of it. They also hoped their friend Mike Royer could be a part of Kirby’s new venture. Mike Royer remembers; “A few hours later I got a call from Jack saying he’d just landed at LAX and he wanted me to know that he had switched to DC, and that he wanted me to ink the books but they had to control them back East. So he couldn’t designate who he wanted to ink for him.”
Wally Wood learned of Kirby’s defection and hurriedly went to Carmine. He asked if he could be the new inker but DC stuck by their guns and stayed with Vince Colletta.
Alan Kupperberg was a production man in DC’s studio when Woody came to see Carmine. “When word first ricocheted around the business that Jack Kirby had decamped for DC Comics in 1970, Woody contacted DC publisher Carmine Infantino and virtually begged for the Kirby assignment. If I recall correctly, Wood even offered to take a cut in his page-rate. Carmine declined. I assume DC sought a continuity of the “Marvel Style”, in Colletta. Plus, garrulous Vinnie was always “there,” in the DC office. Woody was withdrawn, almost a hermit and, probably unfairly, not always considered reliable with deadlines.”
This would allow New York the final say as to what was published. . DC’s brass wanted Kirby to take over an ongoing series so that Kirby’s magic might be quickly integrated with the DC Universe. Kirby’s response was to ask for a series without a steady artist so that he wouldn’t deprive a fellow artist of work. This was resolved when the artist on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was assigned to another strip. Kirby had pleaded with Carmine to create a series of books based on his concepts, and guided by Kirby, but drawn by various artists such as Don Heck, John Romita and Steve Ditko. Carmine had hired Kirby so that Kirby’s art would be seen under the DC brand. Carmine, probably considering the additional cost of more artists quickly put the kibosh on that idea. It was decided that Kirby’s new concepts would be broken into four separate but interconnected series, drawn and written by Kirby and published bi-monthly.
Jack was ready to start up at DC Comics, but some house cleaning first had to be done, When Carmine Infantino announced to DC’s editorial staff that Jack Kirby was joining their ranks, the response was not all positive. Here’s Carmine’s recollection;
“I inform Mort Weisinger he has a new artist/writer on JIMMY OLSEN and it’s Jack Kirby. Well, the fact that I just acquired Marvel’s hottest talent didn’t impress him. All he could think about was that Kirby had sued his friend Schiff, and that Kirby should still be blacklisted from DC. Mort went to Irwin Donenfeld to complain. Donenfeld called me in and I really had to go to bat for Jack. I told Donenfeld I wasn’t interested in personality problems; I was only interested in business. Donenfeld said okay and that was the end of the discussion”.
With that distraction out of the way they now had to decide just what Kirby would do.
shape of things to come
DC’s publicity dept. went into overdrive. In large bold heading’s the phrase KIRBY IS COMING adorned their regular books for months. No mention of the new titles, just the name to build up the suspense or sometimes just a premise. The uninitiated probably thought Kirby was a new character being introduced, but those in the know had no doubts what was coming. Kirby had become a brand unto himself, no “and Simon or Lee” to share the credits and accolades. Kirby’s newfound solo status also meant that Kirby was now responsible for all facets–no Joe Simon to help rein in Kirby’s intensity and wildness, and no Stan Lee to wrap Kirby’s concepts in pithy dialogue and pop sensibilities. For good or worse, the public would now see pure unadulterated Jack Kirby. Autuerism was forced on Jack.
Jon B. Cooke, a noted Kirby expert put it mildly:
“What is important is that Kirby arrived at DC Comics with guns a’blazin’, his imagination unleashed as never before. If we thought his mid-Fantastic Fourrun was fertile — and it was one of the most creatively productive eras in comics history — we were still unprepared for the awe that was yet to come… Darkseid, Super-War, the Anti-Life Equation, Infinity Man, Scott Free, Glorious Godfrey, Granny Goodness, the Pact, Himon, Bug, Kalibak, Glory Boat…”
To which, I would add, Whiz Wagon, DNAliens, Intergang, Dubbilex, and Bugs, ad infinitum.
Over at Marvel, Stan Lee wasn’t taking Kirby’s defection quietly. Kirby’s penchant for leaving lots of inventory meant that Marvel would have Kirby stories to print for at least 5-6 months. It would be several months before new artists would be needed for the Fantastic Four, and Thor. Plus Kirby had drawn the first couple stories for new series featuring The Inhumans, and Kazar, several horror stories for the horror anthologies, and the last Silver Surfer issue. In fact, Fantastic Four #102 was the last Marvel story drawn by Kirby and it wouldn’t see publication for 5 months. Fantastic Four #103 had been drawn by Kirby, but Stan reconfigured the whole story and it was printed at a later date with extra pages to connect the cut and pasted story. Martin Goodman had instituted a new round of reprint titles. Rare would be the months when Kirby’s new titles had a larger newsstand presence than Marvel’s reprint books meaning that the average reader would see more Kirby art by Marvel than by DC at the retail level. Right or wrong, Kirby was at war with himself. But it should be noted that Marvel’s sales started to plummet.
With the release of Jimmy Olsen #133 cover dated Oct. 1970 the readers got their first look at pure Kirby, and it didn’t disappoint. The cover let it be known this wasn’t your father’s Jimmy Olsen. There’s Jimmy riding a motorcycle with a bunch of hairy bikers and running over Superman while Jimmy’s yelling “RUN HIM DOWN! Superman was so important that he was featured front and center on almost all Olsen covers. Kirby’s name proudly displayed at the top of the covers. On the first page, Kirby let the reader know that his past and future are one. We get Jimmy walking into a secret garage amazed to meet the famous 1940’s era Newsboy Legion who are working on a huge souped up vehicle. Now it turns out these are the children of the original Newsboy Legion, but it’s obvious the Kirby was bringing the wacky with him. Could the Guardian be far behind? No. in a burst of creativity one of the underground research facilities was perfecting cloning, and the first person cloned was none other than policeman Jim Harper, with a slightly larger moniker.
Kirby begins in the past
He wears flippers why????
Perhaps more interesting is that Jack added in a new member to the Newsboy Legion. In a time well known for inclusionary actions—such as every sitcom having at least one black character–Jack Kirby integrated his decades long group by adding in Walter Johnson, a young black kid as a full member. But Walter wasn’t quite ordinary, or playing with a full deck. He was obsessed with scuba diving and deep sea exploration to the point that he dressed-even on dry land– in an outlandish scuba diving outfit, huge flippers and a large mask perched on his head–and went by the nickname of Flipper Dipper. (Flippa Dippa) What Jack did was take that outlandish picture of Cleavon Little in the play Scuba Duba, and retrofit it into a crazy young boy working and playing with the Newsboy Legion. Jack never seemed to throw away a visually arresting idea. I have never really understood just what role Jack expected for the new character as he was never a lead character in the story arcs. He remained just a filler character meant to show tolerance and inclusion rather than a full-bodied A-list part of the group.
Flippa Dippa at work, He didn’t do much, but he did it well except explosives expert
I think the same can be said for all the other black characters found in the Fourth World. Vykin-the Black, Shiloh and even the Black Racer never had roles or even story arcs that played up their “blackness”, yet I don’t feel them as tokens. They did their parts and participated in the tales. Flippa was never all that important, but he was as important as Big Words, or Tommy. Scrapper seems to have been the only real standout in the Newsboy Legion. Perhaps it is to Kirby’s credit that he never made their blackness a part of the series. They were accepted as equals –though minor- by everyone. To Kirby black characters were as normal as Asian (Sonny Sumo) Indian (Wyatt Wingfoot) dwarfs (Oberon) or any other minority, yet he never made a spectacle or pointed fingers at their differences. They had become just another element to his tableau, a little color perhaps, but regular Joe’s. The face of villainy was all its own. He was an indifferent species-neither black nor white, Eastern or Western, evil stood alone, just hard and nasty. Jack did make an important issue of race, and prejudice, but it was at the expense of a totally new race living on New Genesis called “the Bugs” and kept down by the supposedly superior race of super-beings led by Highfather. –Kirby’s nod to the curse of America. For the rest of Jack’s career, he managed to always fit in black characters into his bigger stories. From the Falcon, to Black Panther, Big Masai, and Major Klavus, Jack’s world was multi-cultural. (of course one could say it was multi-special also as he used many anthropomorphic characters as well)
Starts out with a bang and a laugh
Oh relevancy!!! Has ever a good word been so abused in mainstream media? Whenever journalists, or reporters try to explain the evolution of comics they always spout that the newer comics have become relevant—a reflection of the more complicated ways of real life, and acknowledging the dirty underbelly. It’s not that they are wrong, but they always back up their assumptions by pointing out mega-steroidal hulks or hyper-pneumatic women that fly and are invulnerable, while wearing underwear and cut-out tops. As if that’s reality. On May 2, 1971 an article appeared in the prestigious New Yorker magazine dealing with the new depth and relevancy of comic books, written by Saul Braun. While spotlighting a harrowing Joe Kubert-drawn Sgt. Rock story and Stan Lee’s battle with the censor board for a Spider-Man arc, and O’Neill’s and Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow tales, it also interviews Jack and talks about the New Gods. The article was poorly titled “Shazam! Here Comes Captain Relevant.” I think Jack liked the spotlight, but Jack wasn’t overwhelmed with comics taking on deep problems. He thought they lacked the space and timing to do it right. Graphic Novels were not around yet.
A decision was made to introduce Kirby’s new series in Showcase Comics. Cover artwork was even readied. Kirby objected because it would make it seem like this was a try out series, rather than a 100% full confidence project. Carmine relented. Kirby began unleashing his new books from scratch, rather than an insert in an existing series. The early issues of Jimmy Olsen would introduce Jack’s larger tableau. It seems that Jimmy has uncovered evidence of Earth becoming a pawn in a larger war between two distant worlds. Jimmy and the Legion and the Guardian would take the fight to aliens working underground to sabotage the world. In the background running the show was the ominous Darkseid (dark-side) from the planet Apokolips, who was infiltrating Earth to
Stan in full hairsuit regalia – shades of My Lai a year earlier
find what he called the anti-life equation. With this formula, he was hoping to be able to enslave the universe with its mind control ability. As a subplot Jimmy has uncovered a secret military research base which is working on top secret projects alongside aliens and other assorted weirdoes. Jimmy Olsen threw out more concepts per page than any other comic in history. Kirby’s mind was in overload and Kirby’s kitchen sink attitude made for an amazing journey. Don Rickles the legendary insult comedian even made a cameo appearance. Jack must have been laughing his tuckus off while drawing this series, and we were the hockey pucks.
A video world pre-MTV
Trouble arose almost immediately, when the DC office received the first Jimmy Olsen pages someone remarked that the faces of Superman and Jimmy looked like Jack Kirby drew them and this wouldn’t do. The public was used to seeing Supes and Jimmy in a certain manner and that couldn’t change. Their first idea was to have Vinnie Colletta, the inker make them on model, but were dissatisfied with his version so they had longtime regular Al Plastino redraw the figures. Thereafter others like Murphy Anderson or even Neal Adams would make the corrections. Jack was furious, why hire him if they don’t want him to do his style. But this wasn’t aimed specifically at Jack; other DC artists had their figures changed for the same reason–to keep a character on model. While at Marvel, Stan had Wally Wood draw the Daredevil figures in an issue of Fantastic Four, and Jim Steranko drew Nick Fury’s head in a Captain America issue. John Romita would often ghost Spider-man in issues he was guesting in. Though the practice was accepted as standard procedure, Jack didn’t like it. With hindsight it doesn’t appear that Kirby’s version were way off line, the characters seem perfectly identifiable, but image was everything back then and Kirby had to accept it. To the readers it must have seemed strange with Kirby’s hard bulky forceful images next to the soft, cheeky old style Superman. Jack learned early that a change in location didn’t mean an end to outside editorial interference. It should also be mentioned that DC expanded the Fourth World into Lois Lane’s series.
The first new series to hit the stands were New Gods, and The Forever People, followed a month later by Mister Miracle. All played important roles in fleshing out the cosmic war that was taking place, but each came from a different angle. The New Gods represented the frontal, direct battle between the two worlds that chose Earth as its battlefield. The New Gods starred the dark brooding Orion, raised on the peaceful world of New Genesis, but tasked by their leader Highfather with the fearful role of the warrior who must take the fight directly to Darkseid.
Forever People #1 redrawn Superman – Carmine Infantino editor
But Orion lives a secret that will affect everything. Orion is of two natures, the gentle scion of New Genesis, and a horrible unmanageable beast given to berserker type rages while in battle. This dichotomy is controlled by his “mother box”; a small computer like machine that becomes literally a part and presence with the person who owns it. Orion is often partnered up with the personable Lightray whose bright personality stands in stark contrast to Orion’s dark warlike traits.
The Forever People were a group of young kids who decided that they wanted to sit this war out. They decided to stay above the fray much like a large sector of American youth decided to sit the Viet Nam War out. But unfortunately, Darkseid wouldn’t let them. The series also featured what I thought was a huge contradiction. These children of peaceful coexistence could meld into a singular entity with a bad disposition and ass kicking attitude. It always seemed silly to on the one hand to show conscientious dissenters suddenly morph into a militaristic personality to wrap up the villains. Was this secretly Jack saying that peaceful methods don’t work, and brute force will always trump evil when peace fails? Interestingly, this character The Infinity Man disappeared after just a few issues. Jack did have plans for this group, but I think he lost his way.
Mister Miracle Lightray and Big Barda round out the New Gods
“I had a black man, Vykin the Black and he was part of the epic. I filled it with the people of the Sixties, and I called them the Forever People, because they seemed like Forever People to me. They were a new step, a new social event in the epic of America. The Forever People were the young people of their time; beautiful, active, highly intelligent and wonderful material for stories, I used the young people of the times; the times themselves became the backdrop of my stories.”
It seemed that one of the kids, Beautiful Dreamer, had a connection to the anti-life formula and Darkseid wanted it. Chasing Darkseid and Beautiful Dreamer to Earth, the group makes a rude and noisy landing that attracts the attention of Darkseid’s minions, plus those of Jimmy Olsen and Superman. Superman catches up to the group just as Darkseid’s underlings attack the group.
Aid comes with the help of Superman and a guardian entity that is formed when the group members touch a mother box and call out “TARRU” This entity known as the Infinity Man is stronger even than Superman and he easily dispatches the villainous monsters. Yet Superman has caught a glimpse through a Boom Tube of a far off world known as Supertown, and wonders if he has a past connection with it.
Kirbytech borders – a happy group
When he requests a doorway to Supertown the kids try to talk him out of going, they tell him that the coming battle will be on Earth and he is needed there. Yet he is determined to go. So the group opens a “boom tube” –a portal across dimensions and Superman enters, but as he nears his destination his doubts take over and he realizes that he can’t abandon Earth, and he returns. Jack’s Superman was one of doubt, and questions. He was sort of a stranger in his own land. He was truly an alien in search of his own history. This short synopsis can’t even begin to relate all the crazy concepts that Jack packed into these stories, but they were never ending and breath taking. All these characters from the two warring worlds had super powers. Despite their attempts at pacifistic avoidance of the war, the Forever People were constantly drawn in and forced to choose sides.
The third book, Mister Miracle revolves around one Scott Free. Born in freedom, yet raised in Apokoliptian slavery, he dreams of escaping from that horror world to a place he can live in peace. This book mirrors the many refugees from Communist countries who faced death to escape to the West. The book opens with Scott actually escaping to Earth, where he meets up with an itinerant entertainer who magically escapes from imprisonments of all kinds. Much like Harry Houdini, this man challenges death daily, and miraculously escapes. But Darkseid is never happy about losing a disciple and he continually attempts to trap Scott Free and return him to Apokolips. When the elderly magician is killed, Scott Free takes up the mantle of Mister Miracle the great escape artist and using his “mother box” he starts his own show where he escapes from the most mind dazzling collection of death dealing devises ever seen, while also escaping from the crazy traps that Darkseid and his underlings set for him.
Steranko – man of many talents
It was not a coincidence that this character was inspired by young Jim Steranko who once had a stage show where he escaped from manacles, and chains and other imprisonments. In a private New York dinner, Jack teased Jim Steranko about what he had started. A surprised Steranko was shocked when a DC editor showed him the proofs of Mister Miracle and informed Jim that Scott Free was indeed Jim Steranko.
“Mister Miracle would have to join Orion in his battle to forever rid themselves of Darkseid in some way.” “Oddly enough, it was Darkseid, the most evil of the characters that brought the others together. It was Darkseid’s dealings with all of them that became the manner in which I could demonstrate how we all deal with evil. I made it as realistic as possible, and the reader could identify with the characters. The book itself blossomed into many others, and became an epic in itself for years.” Good guys usually triumph over bad guys. Bad guys, no matter how clever they are, operate outside our laws. Sooner or later, they must make a mistake that will bring them in contention with that law, and then they will fail.” Jack told an interviewer.
Jack Kirby’s Ricky and Lucy – It wasn’t always love and roses
The four books intersected, but rarely connected directly, the main connections were that Darkseid was the common villain and the search for the anti-life equation concerned them all. There was never anything like this done prior to Kirby’s effort. Kirby had a vision for this series as having a definite conclusion rather than an on-going endless series of books. There would be a reckoning. More important, Jack had added passion and justification to his palette.
Rock hard and nasty – fully articulated
Just after Kirby started the Fourth World series, his son Neal graduated from Syracuse with a Business Degree. He moved back to California and brought with him his young wife. Neal and Steve and Mark hit it off immediately. After the debacle at Marvelmania had ended, they were still excited about the possibility of marketing items relating to Jack’s art. Over the dinner table they decided on putting together a portfolio of Jack’s art through the years, plus add in a simple biography. The result was Kirby Unleashed. It featured many examples of Jack’s early art, most of which had never been seen by the public before. Plus it had rejected pages, and production pages from recent series, and a preview of Jack’s new New Gods books. With a biography by Mark Evanier, and the graphic work by Steve Sherman.
Neal did the marketing under the business name Communicators Unlimited. It was a well packaged product that did well at first, and eventually made a little money. It wasn’t perfect, there are mistakes in the bio, and the art choices are questionable at times, but it is and was a great introductory item to the world of Jack Kirby.
They followed this up with another portfolio called The Gods, which represented the Norse Gods in a different way than the Marvel versions. These were inked by Don Heck and colored by Jack. Jack mistakenly claimed credit for inking when he misunderstood a question by Greg Theakston and confused inking with the coloring—since the colors are called inks.
New versions of old characters
With the two portfolios in hand plus other small items they had made up, they attended a Comic Convention in New York. The convention gave them a private room and they opened for business. Neal said they were amazed, the stuff was flying off the shelves. They thought they had struck it rich.
Working at DC had its stodgy side—one called it an almost mausoleum in its efficiency, but there was one item that always woke them up. Alan Kupperberg was a utility man helping out in inking, and production chores. He remembers;
“… normally, only two events in the staid course of the DC universe would, like a giant rogue comet or invading singularity, disturb the magisterial and usually unalterably eternal orbits at DC Comics. The arrival of a new Joe Kubert Tarzan book; and the other JK– Jack Kirby’s — latest “special delivery.” Even hardened and cynical long time production department grunts Morris Waldinger and Joe Letterese would join the gaggle and goggle in appreciation as each new Fourth World episode unfolded.”
“Funky Flashman absolutely made waves the moment it arrived in the office. If my memory serves me, within a day or so of its arrival, a certain Houseroy had paid an undercover visit to DC and had a chuckle reading this now “infamous” tale.”
But all was not love and kisses at DC. Along with Jack’s new forcefulness on inkers, he also started making demands of the colorists. DC’s coloring crew had worked with a strict independence, and the choices had been left up to Jack Adler and his crew such as Jerry Serpe, etc. But Kirby had his own ideas about coloring that had evolved over the years as he had occasionally provided color guides for selected covers. There had been a huge dustup when Mister Miracle #1 was printed with the wrong colors for the uniforms. This resulted in a heated battle over the phone between Jack and Jack Adler. Perhaps Jack’s demands had been ended with an “I am the editor and what I say goes” type of statement. Jack Adler was a nice guy, but did not take interference well. Jack’s insistence and interference with Adler reached the point that Adler called him an “egotist” –though probably not the correct term Adler was looking for. Jack’s demands were not made from ego but from his own artistic vision. It wasn’t Kirby pushing his auteurness, it was the director looking at all techniques and processes. He wanted a better, perhaps more personal product, not more acclaim. Adler was somewhat contentious and possessive about the coloring aspect and hated artists interfering with his realm. Good thing he never worked with Jim Steranko who wanted 100% control of the process.
“Wonderful, funny, patient Jack Adler ran DC’s coloring department, among his other duties. When Tommy Nicoletti, Jerry Serpe or Paul Reinman would deliver the color guides for a Kirby book, Adler would review it, as he did all their efforts. Adler would often “throw” a YRB2 (red brown) or a YBR2 (dark green) into a panel behind a three-quarter character close-up with an open background. A touch as small as this would invariably make an already sizzling Kirby page pop like a firecracker.”
Kirby started to collect a small group of admirers who came to visit often at the Kirby casa. Like moths, this group of young men was drawn into Kirby’s flame. Among this group was a budding artist named Dave Stevens and his best friend Scott Shaw. Dave grew up loving dinosaurs and spaceships and drawing them on anything. He would hang around Jack, and while the others would pester Jack about office politics, and company ways, and the latest story, Dave peppered him with questions about art materials, and tools, and the nuts and bolts of creating comic art. Jack began mentoring Dave and encouraging his work. Dave would proudly show Jack the things he was working on—such as toy designs, appliances, and other sundry items. Jack boasted that he should be doing commercial art for magazines, but Dave protested that he wanted to do sequential art like Jack.
Mark Evanier recalled seeing Dave at Kirby’s:
“Dave was truly one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life…and the most gifted. Our first encounter was at Jack Kirby’s house around 1971 when he came to visit and show Jack some of his work. As I said, Kirby was very encouraging and he urged Dave not to try and draw like anyone else but to follow his own passions. This was advice Dave took to heart, which probably explains why he took so long with every drawing. They were rarely just jobs to Dave. Most of the time, what emerged from his drawing board or easel was a deeply personal effort. He was truly in love with every beautiful woman he drew, at least insofar as the paper versions were concerned.” (Dave was married once…for six months to the prolific movie actress Brinke Stevens-another Bettie Page look-a-like– and she retained his last name after they divorced.)
Dave’s career wandered into another area when he began doing work for movies, such as storyboards and some design stuff. He also picked up some animation work with Doug Wildey and would join the Wildeys and Kirbys at social functions. Russ Manning gave Dave some work on Tarzan. But his favorite was the few times he would ink Jack’s cartoons for the San Diego Comic-Con. Dave often sat with Jack at the con and marveled at Kirby’s patience. When asked what he remembered most about Jack, Dave said; “ (His greatest lesson) was probably about being gracious to fans; to people who really impose, and don’t go away and don’t have a clue—and yet Jack would always take the time, and he was never rude to anybody. He treated them all with respect.”
Kirby had some other ideas he wanted to try. He was interested in breaking out of the 20 page, small pamphlet mode and expand into larger magazine sized books where he could have more freedom to make the stories more adult. Since the comic code authority had no control over other magazines, the artists had the ability to venture into more adult territory. Warren Publishing was having success with Eerie, Creepy and other mags. Even Marvel had ventured in with a couple Spider-Man magazines. Other publishers stuck their toes in also. Jack proposed a handful of concepts from which two were given the go ahead. The first to see print was titled “In The Days of the Mob”, where once again Jack would venture into depression era crime. The stories were eerily reminiscent of his Crestwood books like Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty. The second book returned Kirby to his horror days as Spirit World retread Jack’s Black Magic and Strange World of Your Dreams. The books were published by Hampshire House, a small imprint of DC and received a very low distribution and virtually no visibility on the stands and died after one issue each. It has been speculated that DC had no real desire to see these books succeed and made sure of the low distribution. Their chosen genres certainly ran against the current graphic tide. Horror and Crime had both lost their lustre.
The books were very well done and the art was superb Kirby, but the subject matter and themes were purely old school– been there done that–and really offered nothing new or exciting to the readers. For wanting to hit a more mature audience, the actual content was Ivory Snow pure.
In The Days of the Mob splash, no loss of dynamics – Spirit World eerie and atmospheric
Kirby had produced stories for a second horror issue and with the cancellation; they turned up in several of DC’s horror titles. Several other concepts such as Soul Love, an African American centered romance book, and True Divorce Cases were rejected as unsellable by the company. There was even a pitch for a magazine tentatively titled Uncle Carmine’s Fat City Comix – a sort of underground/ Rolling Stone / National Lampoon pop culture rag. It also was aborted.
Unpublished attempt at more risque adult fare – Was Kirby responding to Jane Fonda?
NASA was planning a huge step in man’s cosmic exploration. With the launch of Pioneer 10, we would be leaving our small solar system. Man was going to worlds unseen. A science writer named Eric Burgess came up with an idea that Pioneer should carry a message to any alien intelligence that might come across the spaceship. He approached Carl Sagan, a fellow scientist and writer, who had lectured about communication with extraterrestrial intelligences at a conference in Crimea. Sagan was enthusiastic about the idea of sending a message with the Pioneer spacecraft. NASA agreed to the plan and gave him three weeks to prepare a message. Together with Frank Drake, the founder of SETI, he designed the plaque, and the artwork was prepared by Sagan’s then-wife Linda Salzman Sagan. The first plaque was launched with Pioneer 10 on March 2, 1972, and a second followed with Pioneer 11 on April 5, 1973.
The design of the plaque was not unanimously accepted, and The Los Angeles Times ran an article asking other notable artists and writers for their preferred version of the plaque. Among those asked were Peter Max, and underground artists Victor Moscoso and Robert Williams, Virgil Partch and Brit Allen Jones. Jack Kirby was one of those asked. In a Sunday supplement called West Magazine, dated Sept. 10, 1972 they published the results. Jack’s submission showed a man and woman as colorful happy super beings. Kirby wasn’t thrilled that such an important concept was left to just a few individuals, instead of a national debate. He explained that he was wary of sending any information about humanity. His fear was, as he put it, “who would come knocking, the trader, or the tiger?” So it was better to show man as capable of defending itself.
Kirby Kolors watch out tiger!
Early on all the DC books were inked by veteran Vince Colletta. Colletta came out of the Alex Raymond school of romance illustrating and he was known for a very fine line and scratchy textured feel to his inks. His specialty was texture, he wanted the readers to fell the difference between cloth, and leather, or fur or skin—he gave each its own technique—that’s why his work on Thor, with its naturalism seemed so successful. He had been inking and drawing romance books, and then Thor for years at Marvel. Many readers felt that this was the wrong style for inking over Kirby.
Vince the Prince
Kirby had reached an impressionistic style full of hard slashing lines and expressionistic squiggles and bold backgrounds full of dynamic bursts of energy named Kirby krackle. Truth be told, Jack had long since stopped worrying about texture, it seemed all materials were treated the same way. It didn’t matter if the person was wearing a natural material or a metallic suit, Jack drew folds, or sinew the same way—hard slashing squiggly lines that dissected the body. It was left up to the inker to decide whether or not to differentiate between skin, material or metal. Colletta’s lightweight inks never seemed to capture the full dynamics of Kirby’s boldness. Colletta also had a maddening habit of erasing background characters and simplifying architecture by turning Kirby’s magnificently ornate architecture into little square grids and checkerboard facades. He also would simplify faces and make all the women look the same; beautiful, but plastic. But Vince was not without talent and fans—chief among them the editors –who often called on Colletta and his band of merry inkers when jobs were behind schedule.
Mark Evanier, and Sherman would look at the stats and compare then to Kirby’s originals and blanch at the changes Vince made. They would show them to Jack and campaign for Jack to fire Colletta. Jack was wary, he hated that type of confrontation and the thought of taking food out of a fellow artists’ mouth reviled him. But finally he had enough and made a visit to New York and confronted Colletta. Vince made it clear that he wasn’t changing his operation of coached associates for anyone, and perhaps Jack should simplify his pencils so that an inker could do them faster. The outraged Kirby went into the DC offices and demanded of Carmine that he replace Colletta with Mike Royer, the inker he had met in California. Carmine commiserated with Jack, but Colletta was a very valuable inker. He was the inker that the editors turned to when they were behind schedule, as Colletta and his team could do a whole book over a weekend. A compromise was reached; Colletta would remain on Jimmy Olsen, the in-house book while Royer was given the other three titles.
The results were so dramatically different–like night and day. But the response was mixed. Many people loved the softness and textures that Vinnie added, while others wanted the full abstractness of Kirby’s new style. The initial reaction was negative, and in one of the few arguments between Kirby and Evanier, Jack blew up and blamed him for the response since he was the one who pushed for Royer as a replacement. His anger soon passed; personally Jack was thrilled with Royer. Having the inker so close allowed Kirby to make sure that what was inked was what he drew, it also meant less art changes from New York. One time Royer prettied up the face of Big Barda; a female warrior that Jack drew solidly. When Jack saw the pretty face he immediately cut it out and redrew the face he wanted, scolding Mike and telling him never to change anything. Royer understood and is considered the inker most true to Kirby’s pencil. Unfortunately, Mike was not the most fluid inker at the time and his early works seem messy and overwrought. The demand to never change anything meant that little mistakes and bad perspectives that more mature and competent inkers would have corrected remain in Mike’s inks. Over time Mike improved drastically to where his precision almost rivaled Joe Sinnott.
Greg Theakston’s second edition – deluxe death defiers redux
Yet it should be noted that the early 70’s saw the introduction of a new breed of pencilers, with a style of exquisite illustration. These artists such as Mike Ploog, Bernie Wrightson, Jeff Jones, and others grabbed the attention and superb cartoonists like Kirby, or Ditko and Beck suffered with the young buyers. The change in styles made Kirby seem old and outdated. In the fans eye, Jack Kirby was becoming passe; a victim of time and tide. Some pros took to unfavorably comparing him to the then hot Neal Adams, and saying Jack was the past while Neal was the future. (It should be mentioned that Neal Adams, while unique never had a successful run on any given comic, while Kirby never failed. Neal drew pretty pictures, Jack told stories.)
But Jack had his fans. Carmine once admitted; “The kids at Yale think Kirby’s new books are more tuned in to them than any other media. They’re reading transcripts from NEW GODS over their radio station. The Kirby books are a conscious attempt to show what things look like when you’re out where the kids are. The colleges, the influence of the drug culture. We’re showing them basically what they’re seeing. We’re tuning in to what they’re experiencing.”
It is interesting that at this time Jack Kirby finally became picky about his inkers. Inking has always been a part of the process. But Jack always figured that his ability as a penciler was so strong that an inker could not destroy his meaning. His many inkers over the years had many styles and techniques that they added to Jack’s drawings. Whether it was Joe Simon’s dark and scratchy hay, or Al Williamson’s beautiful light airy illustrative flourishes, or Wally Wood’s dramatic shadow/sheen, it seems Jack’s stories shone through. At Marvel, Stan paired Jack up with a varied crew of fellows and told them to add their personalities to Jack’s pencils and make the finished product collaboration. To Stan, the inkers were as important as the penciler to the final product, so a Dick Ayers added a roughhewn organic line, while a Steve Ditko made everything dark and creepy, a Vince Colletta softened and texturized as Joe Sinnott hardened, and intensified the work with clear, hard, shiny lines. None of these were wrong, though some might say that Colletta’s softness was not what Jack drew. It should be emphasized that for most of Jack’s career, the inkers were chosen by the editors; they were controlled and judged by the editor, not the penciler. Their job was to prepare the work for coloring and printing, not to impress Jack. Later in life Kirby worried about inking, and coloring, and preferred those that followed more precisely what he drew. He wanted trueness, not added personality. So we see him going more to Mike Royer or Berry. Jack had earned this right though some may claim that the product lacked style and personality that came from inking flourishes. Did not the FF look better under a Joe Sinnott rather than a George Roussos? In fact, Jack Kirby actually took little flourishes from the inkers to make his work look better. These arguments will continue for all times. And the answers will always be subjective–purely dependent on the individual’s preference. But inking does have some fundamentals that all the inkers depended on. Artist, friend and occasional Kirby inker, Greg Theakston explained in an article in Amazing Heroes #100. Titled “A Look at Technique”, Greg tried to explain what an inker needed to do over Jack Kirby; he used a drawing of a god, Heimdall, done by Kirby and Don Heck in the late 60’s as a guide.
“As a basic rule, the inking is broken into three strokes.
1) “Holding lines”- Heavy lines that define the overall shape, with accents to move the eye, and at the same time, strengthen the form. To see the holding lines, squint at the drawing. (Chic Stone used the heaviest holding lines, they have been called coloring book drawings because the lines were so distinct – Colletta’s may have been the finest. – ST)
2) Decorative lines- Medium lines that define secondary shapes on a major form, or lines that decorate the major form. (such as costume lines and muscles)
3) Detail work- Fine line-work used on important intricate forms; also used as textures. (note scales on tights, detail work can be heavy where the detail is more prominent)
What amazes me is the weight of the “holding lines” on the legs, hip, and cape. How many of today’s inkers/artists would dare to use such a line? It is heavy but not crude, and it also manipulates our eye back to the head. The blacks are spotted in the cape, and really push the figure forward (called spotting- it really refers to mass blacks of any shape that can be used to highlight and direct the action) Rather than black spots, Heck has given the shadows a fur texture. All the fur work leads your eye to the warriors head.
The shadow work on the right leg is very strong, and adds extra support to the lower leg. Well-spotted blacks within give an object strength and support. (make the leg appear strong enough to carry the figures weight)
The composition is the “big O” helped by the cape, stripes on shoes, outer axe blade, strap, and up to the head.” – Greg Theakston
While I might agree or disagree with some of what Greg put forth, I think he captured the main points. ( I tend to put less weight on the “leading” role Greg thinks is so important, I might also have talked about the role of cross-hatching as opposed to feathering, or blocking as an inking choice for shadows) Inkers must constantly choose the weight and thickness of their lines to help shape the character for proper coloring. The inkers must also decide how to interpret the pencilers gray areas. An inker like Colletta would always choose to make shadows soft and shapely rather than Royer’s choice of solid black areas. The important thing, as Gil Kane and John Romita noted was that Jack supplied all of those answers, the inkers job was to follow Jack’s choices, not add in their own personal choices. Jack wanted someone to follow his suggestions, not come up with their own. Basically, it’s a philosophical question. Is the inker a facilitator or an equal partner in drawing this picture? It’s a question that for most of Jack’s career he didn’t care the answer, but as he got older, he considered inkers as facilitators-just part of the printing process, not the thinking process. Jack would explain that all the storytelling choices were made before the drawing even starts, after that, it’s all process.
Mike Royer gave Jack what he wanted- some bad, extraneous and sketchy lines and all. To many people, they would have preferred seeing some of Mike’s style and personality also. Stepping out of the authorial role, my preference has always been the collaborative method where the inker is considered an equal person in the process- give me a Wally Wood, or Joe Simon over an aper anytime. It is interesting that at an even later time, Jack allowed Mike Thibodeaux to ink. Mike always added in his patented circular, florid lines to the drawing. He couldn’t ink without adding his personality to the mix.
More Kirby art and Green Arrow plays along
In the early Seventies, Mattel , the toy company came up with a series of comic related puzzle games. They would feature the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, and Superman. Alex Toth was scheduled to supply the graphics, but when he couldn’t do them he recommended his California neighbor Jack Kirby. The art was classic Kirby doing three characters that he had never really done previous, except for a few panels of Superman in the Jimmy Olsen comic. Mike Royer inked the drawings and on Superman they once again had the head redrawn by Murphy Anderson. One of the Superman drawings appears to be Superman on Super Town. What an amazing chance to see Kirby on Tarzan, and Lone Ranger. There had been other chances where Kirby might have done classic pulp, and radio characters, but this was one of the few times to actually materialize.
Impostor heads and an early Devil Dinosaur
Another interesting commission came from Pro! Magazine– an in-house magazine for the NFL. Kirby was asked to do two drawings of a cosmically charged futuristic football game. These magnificent works of art also feature Kirby’s unique color palette. The art is surreal, and garish, and futuristic.
Kirby throwing the bomb
In most lives, especially that of a freelance artist, there are those strange projects that come along and for a period take up ones time and creativity, and then quietly disappear for reasons of their own. The little work product created gets thrown into the dead drawer where it sits until many years later, an inquisitive family member comes along and reopens that long lost drawer. In 1971, American International pictures released a horror movie called the Abominable Dr. Phibes, a scary, slimy gothic horror film of revenge—notable only for the scene chewing vitality of Vincent Price, and the Phantom of the Opera rip-offs. It was a modest film of no real repute, but it managed to make the studio some money so a follow up was ordered. The second film released in 1972 was called The Rise of Dr. Phibes, where Price reprises his role of the horribly scarred Dr. seeking revenge on those who killed his wife. Most of the writing was by William Goldstein, though the second feature was bastardized by other writers. This sequel also made money and Goldstein tried to sell the premise for a TV show.
Jack Kirby was hired to produce some presentation art for the show to be called The Sinister Dr. Phibes. Only one sheet exists and that was found years later by Jeremy Kirby going through his granddads things. Jeremy speculated that it was a possible presentation piece for the movie which would put it circa 1971.
Vincent Price under the mask
Historian William Maynard places it after the second movie for a re-named TV pitch which would place it in 1972-73 which seems more likely given the name change. The piece was partially inked and lettered, most likely by Mike Royer who had taken over most of Kirby’s inking by this time, plus the lettering and logo design match up to Royer’s pattern. The piece was never finished as it most likely was shelved in mid-production-much like a later Prisoner series. It’s not known if this was a for gratis piece or if he was paid for his participation though short lived.
Later, another artist, Jay Stephens, after seeing the rough sketch finished the work; he re-did the title back to the original blood dripping movie title and formatted it to the Kirby style of the early 70’s. He added some muted coloring and produced a very nice sample of quasi-Kirby art. The corner accents are not something Kirby would have done—his decorative bits were more geometric and technical. I do like how the new artist re-used the black cloud letter background behind the new art in a more muted color. The new inker was very faithful to Jack’s original pencils and he captured the creepiness of the characters-though I wish the mask was more Vincent Price-like, and the added teeth to the monster weren’t necessary. Placing Jack’s name in a circle was something Jack did often in the early 70’s. All the details of how this piece came about will probably never be known, but it is an interesting look into the often crazy world of the freelance commercial artist. Hopefully other one-off pieces will show up and help fill in the magical career of Jack Kirby.
The initial sales returns for the Fourth World books were encouraging. It seemed that many a Marvel Zombie crossed over into enemy territory. It’s been reported that the first issue of Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen set a new company record for most improved sales from one issue to the next. Unfortunately the sales did not continue to impress; they slowly slid southward. Some of the problem was DC’s. They got into a price pissing match with Marvel and got burned. Their higher pricing caused a great drop in the whole DC line and almost cost Infantino his job.(similar to what happened to Dell) Other problems might have been Jack’s, such as never giving a new reader a comfortable place to jump in at, and not giving the characters back stories and histories. (I’ll talk about this in more detail later)
In 1972, a small toy company leased the rights from both DC and Marvel to create a new line of action figures. Mego Corp. was a little known company that had offered an 8 inch fully poseable doll named Action Jackson. The toy made no ripple in the market, but Mego was convinced by a merchandiser that the body cast could be used on a new line of super-heroes. They paid $50,000 for the rights to 4 DC comic characters and released them in 1973 to much acclaim. Batman, Superman, Robin and Aquaman were a whopping success. Mego quickly acquired the rights to several Marvel characters. Spider-Man and Captain America appeared later in 1973 using Jack Kirby art on the advertising.
The next couple years would see the addition of more old DC and Marvel characters such as Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the Fantastic Four-many using Kirby’s artwork on their packaging. This series title World’s Greatest Super–Heroes became a marketing miracle that catapulted the company to the height of toy companies. The quality of the sculpting and the costuming was top rate and the packaging was colorful and eye-catching. They added to their line with a series of banks, and play sets, and accessories. The action figure became a staple of the toy industry. Despite the great fees, the artists never saw a penny. At the same time Marvel was using Kirby art to sell their merchandise, they released a series of hard backed books telling the history of Marvel Comics with the claim that all the characters were created by Stan Lee. If any mention of Jack Kirby was made it was as the lucky artist chosen by Stan to illustrate his characters. Jack Kirby was officially a non-person- as the cash registers rang upward. Kirby angrily took his copy and tore out all the text by Stan Lee. Roy Thomas commented; “I think once Jack left, there was a natural tendency to mentally downgrade his contributions, just from a practical viewpoint. Otherwise you’re giving a competitor credit. I won’t say how much of that was conscious and how much was unconscious, but it’s a natural tendency. At that stage, you’re doing it for hype, for publicity purposes and to do that, you don’t necessarily play up the guy who quits and gone to the competition.” It seems sad that DC did nothing to push Kirby’s new concepts, while Marvel kept regurgitating unaccredited, Kirby’s old characters and art. An Orion among the Mego figures would have been staggering.
I think DC told Jack his sales were slipping, and Jack responded by trying to make the books more dramatic. He attempted a cinematic technique that made the introduction of the stories jump out with dynamics. It has been called the opening triptych. The splash page is a beautifully rendered introduction to the hero in a dramatic fashion. Page two and three become a fabulous two-page splash that introduces the locale and wild environment that the hero is caught up in. These wide angle shots are simply beyond the pale; full of movement, details, and drama that immediately pulls the readers in. The quiet but dramatic opening splash page erupts into a maelstrom of action as all hell breaks loose. I can’t think of any other artist who has so confidently and imaginatively given us a peek into their nightmare visions. Jack actually used this on a couple Marvel books but increased use of this technique on and off for the next 5-6 years. These two page splashes leave no corner untouched as Kirby fills the whole page with action.
Kirby opening triptych – see the hero – see the hero in deep shit dramatic detail
Around the time of the seventh issues, there appears to have been an editorial decision to make a change in focus. In New Gods #7 Kirby presented the back-story for the whole cataclysmic civil war taking place. He showed how the two worlds had always been at war until a pact was made between Darkseid and Highfather of New Genesis. This peace pact was sealed by a trading of the two offspring. Thus Orion was actually born of Apokolips, and Scott Free was originally of New Genesis. The great secret of Orion’s personality dichotomy was revealed, and Scott Free’s ingrained desire for freedom was revealed. Over in Mister Miracle, Kirby gave us Scott Free’s life as a child on Apokolips, taught by the sadistic Granny Goodness, trained to be a military man and shown the light by Himon, the leader of the underground freedom movement and quite the escape artist himself.
Takes us back to the beginning
In Forever People, they decided to bring in another long time DC character to try to draw in the longtime DC fans that were still resisting Kirby’s magic. In 1967, DC had originated a new character named Deadman. He was a circus performer killed in action by an unknown assailant with a hook for a hand (Borrowed from the TV’s Fugitive) He was reanimated as a ghost by an occult being and quested with finding his murderer. Although created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino, it would become recognized as a vehicle for Neal Adams’ dramatic art. Deadman became a fan favorite immediately winning Alley awards as best new strip and character. Despite its impressive art, the character failed to find public acceptance and soon was dropped as a series. But the editors constantly tried to find avenues to showcase this character. In 1972 the editors asked Jack Kirby to throw him into the Fourth World. Jack was not happy, but he relented and Mark Evanier used a quirk in Deadman’s history as a means to work him into Jack’s epic. But Jack had no knowledge of this character and asked for help.
Alan Kupperberg was Johnny on the spot:
“Deadman was to make his appearance in the Forever People and word came back to DC via Jack’s New York liaison, E. Nelson Bridwell, that Jack needed Deadman art and story reference. Being, at that time, the buttinsky of ALL time, my ears opened wide. “
“I volunteered to loan Jack my own personal collection of Strange Adventures. Off they went to California. And you’d better believe I got them back in pristine shape and in a timely manner. And you’d better believe I’ve still got them.”
“Of course, as a dyed-in-the-wool Superman fan, I’d long dreamt of a Kirby Superman. So I was as disappointed as everyone else when DC had artists Al Plastino and then Murphy Anderson, bring the famous Kryptonian physiognomy into line with the DC house style. Sometimes Superman’s face was “whited-out” with Sno-Pake and Vinnie Colletta’s work was re-inked. Sometimes the inked face was pasted over. Sometimes it was literally cut out of the page and patched in. Sometimes Vinnie left the face uninked and it was passed on to Anderson. Murphy regularly worked in the tiny, airless room DC set aside for freelancers use. Why ever and whatever way they were accomplished, I still feel these alterations were a sad mutilation.”
“In that same cramped room I watched Neal Adams as he inked, among others, the Don Rickles cover of Jimmy Olsen #141. I also marveled as Neal did his own covers for the book, and his glee in having a crack at his conception of “being” Kirby on the cover of Jimmy Olsen #148.”
“After business hours, Adams would often invade the deserted production room and pore over the latest Kirby originals, professing awe at the King’s raw power and artistic versitility.” Adam’s would exclaim. “I get overwhelmed at seeing that gutsy, ballsy thing, (Kirby’s iconography) I want to do that but I can’t.”
It seemed that none of the attempts helped and sales continued to decline. Some have hinted that it wasn’t so much as sales declining but the failure to reach good sell thru of the print runs. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since print runs are easily reduced when called for. If an issue sells regularly at the 300K level than readjust your print run from 400K down 325K and you suddenly have a profitable print run. Publishers are always adjusting print runs as sales rise or decline. Sometimes a small sell through is evidence of an over-optimistic print run.
Whatever the true reason, Kirby was taken off Jimmy Olsen soon, New Gods and Forever People were canceled with issue #11. Mister Miracle was changed from a piece of a large intermingling jigsaw puzzle to a typical super-hero title and continued for another year and a half. But this didn’t mean the end of Kirby at DC. As one series was canceled, he immediately produced another. Carmine wasn’t anti-Kirby, he was anti-Fourth World, he was looking for a breakout series from Kirby.
Kirby was devastated, he had given his all on these books, and couldn’t understand how they could have failed. There were rumors of DC editorial intrusions and back stage shenanigans that killed the books despite decent if not great sales. Kirby was afraid that Carmine was reverting back to his pattern of cancelling titles at first sign of bad sales. It was well known that Carmine was on a short leash, and Kirby thought he was jumping the gun. No matter what the actual figures, they were no threat to Marvel’s dominance. Rumors and articles in some fanzines actually claimed Kirby was leaving. In reality, Kirby had thoughts of jumping ship, but he had a contract.
Book writers Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones have another theory on the collapse of the Fourth World books and Jack response.
From The Comic Book Heroes (1985 Crown Publishers)
“Sometimes, perhaps, Kirby’s imagination went a little too far out (especially in Jimmy Olson, where vampires, Scottish Sea Serpents, and even comedian Don Rickles traipsed through the pages) ; but even then, all of his work blazed with the unmistakable Kirby verve. The Fourth World provided one of those rarest and most meaningful of moments in comic book history; a truly individual vision, free of trends and fads, of editorial policy and the demands of mainstream fandom. In those pages, full of archetypal power, explosive action, and bizarre invention, Jack Kirby—the man who had been both workhorse and maverick, street fighter, and mythic poet, Salesman and creative genius during all of comics most critical junctures—brought his tumultuous career to a dazzling consummation, and in the process created 3 of the finest series of their time.”
“For a while there seemed nowhere to go but up. The titles were apparently selling well, Kirby was committed to them, and their promise seemed boundless. Thus it came as a stunning blow both to Kirby and his fans when DC inexplicably canceled New Gods, and the Forever People after 11 issues(Nov 1972) and Mr. Miracle after 18 (Mar 1974) having already turned Jimmy Olson over to editor Murray Boltinoff (Apr 1972) The “titanic” struggle of New Genesis and Apokolips was left unresolved (With these cancellations Kirby felt a growing discontent with the standard business of comic book production, in which all of his great ideas remained the property of DC, and he gained only a freelancer’s fees; he thus began, like Neal Adams and Mike Freidrich to be a force for legal and financial, as well as creative change in the field.”
Their theory sounds okay, but I don’t entirely buy it. First, I am not sure that the series was selling all that well. I also think Kirby had some idea it was coming. I also don’t consider it the end of Kirby’s fine career. More important, I don’t quite buy the Kirby as social leader because of the cancellation idea. Jack had begun some of the changes such as demand for artwork before the Fourth World. I see no evidence that the idea of copyright or ownership occurred and was fought for by Kirby at that time. Kirby never asked for any of his DC creations, nor the later ones when back at Marvel. The copyright law changes were still several years away, so I doubt Kirby ever thought he had any right to the copyrights at that time. Kirby never joined up with Neal Adams in his brief quest for creative rights. At some later point I do think Kirby became aware and fought for those creative ideals, but not at this time because of this failure. I think the ideas were simply fragments in the ether at this time for Jack.
Seamless end of one and beginning anew
When he was immediately given new series, he swallowed his pride and continued to soldier on. First was The Demon, a curious blend of Arthurian legend and modern mysticism. The Demon is in the real world Jason Blood, a relative of Merlin’s who, when danger intrudes transforms into a hellish demon formed from one of Merlin’s spells. The book was very atmospheric and a vehicle for Kirby to mix monsters, mythology and sci-fi as only he could. It was another case of a conflicted character, neither all good, nor all bad. Speculation this was to venture into the gothic horror market Marvel was cultivating. Mark Evanier explains that it was a Kirby creation done while waiting for a Turkey dinner at Howard Johnsons. The visual effect was stolen from a long ago Hal Foster Prince Valiant story. Again it started with great promise but its energy and dynamism soon eroded and became mundane and anti-climatic. It started out creepy yet soon became camp and tacky.
Foster becomes Kirby
Perhaps it was age, or energy level, but Kirby’s series seemed to have fallen into a predictable pattern. They would start off at a high level as Kirby was energized by the new concept, but after the initial concept was done, the series would then fall into a formulaic, and banal episodic dreariness. Jack couldn’t maintain his original fire in the belly for the series.
Next followed Kamandi; a dystopian tale of a future world where animals were in charge and humans were mindless beasts, except for one boy who had survived the great holocaust and finds himself adrift in a world that he doesn’t understand or control. If this seems reminiscent of Planet of The Apes, that’s because it was inspired by the movie. When DC couldn’t get the rights Carmine decided to make their own version. But this isn’t a simple remake of the movie. Kirby had done something similar many years before in a fantasy comic from Harvey, and his stories share more thematically with that short story than they do from the movie. The name Kamandi was also borrowed from a long lost newspaper strip Kirby had proposed in the 1950’s. Jack retrofitted the name and made the research facility that Kamandi lived in Command D. The physical appearance seems to be a continuation of the long flowing blond hair, devil may care adventurer template as earlier seen in Angel of Boy’s Ranch and Thor. We would see it again in Captain Victory. The child took the name of the facility as his own. Kirby took the kernel and produced a different and more wondrous world than Pierre Boulle ever considered. Kirby’s Kamandi was allegorical, topical, philosophical and just plain simple fun. This was what Infantino wanted and needed, the series would last for over four years and well after Kirby left the series. As per Jack’s history, he gave the child a mentor named Ben Boxer –who can transform his body into a nuclear reactor.
In late 1972 Jack had an idea. He approached DC to try to sell it. Jack had always loved C.C.Beck’s version of Captain Marvel. DC was now the owner of the property since the Fawcett lawsuit. Jack suggested bringing the character back and having Beck once again draw it. DC liked the idea, but turned it over to Editor Julius Schwartz to pursue. Beck would return to draw the strip but the results were less than satisfying. The DC writers could never match or understand Otto Binders self-parodying and innocent essence from the original strip. The book, titled Shazam,though widely anticipated soon floundered. Beck retired once again. Yet DC was able to sell a TV series featuring the intrepid family. After Beck left after issue #11, DC tried to force fit the series into the regular DC Universe to no avail. The series soon folded. Likewise Berni Wrightson introduced Swamp Thing in the back of a fantasy anthology book to great acclaim. The character soon received his own book as Berni provided beautiful artwork and the stories even included Batman, yet Berni soon left and the series was cancelled soon after.
Mike Kaluta made a wonderful attempt at reviving the old pulp character the Shadow-again to much acclaim, but little sales. DC was fighting for new successful series, yet was unable to find the right formula with old or new characters.
Marvel wasn’t doing much better. The downward spiral that started when Kirby stopped plotting hit freefall when Kirby left. Stan Lee had given up the day to day , and the editor position became one big musical chair. Jim Shooter said; “sales were bad and falling. It was almost all newsstand sales then, by the way. This was before the Direct Market was a significant factor. The comics overall were breakeven at best. Upstairs, the cheesy non-comics magazine department was losing millions. It seemed like the company as a whole was in a death spiral.” This, despite a few books like Conan, Master of Kung-Fu, and Tomb of Dracula selling very well.
Amazingly, on their bestselling book, Conan, Barry Smith—the low rate artist had become a super-star. Despite wanting only to work at Marvel, he had become disillusioned with their plantation mentality. In disgust, he left the comic industry to try out for fine art immortality. Suddenly in a book that they had wanted a low wage penciler was given their top rated artist, as John Buscema took over for a long run.
Smith would join several other disgruntled comic artists and create a fine art studio called “the Studio”. Along with Jeff Jones, Bernie Wrightson, and Mike Kaluta left comics to varying degrees to produce large prints and posters, and some book illustrations. Comics bad business design had lost some more talent at an already low point.
Jack created whole new worlds
Jack was known for his spontaneity, his willingness to react in an instant if a story came to him. In Kamandi it was no different. In 1974 the United States was living through a Constitutional crisis. In what has become known as the Watergate Affair, President Nixon was accused of participating in a cover up of a criminal break-in of the Watergate Hotel. In late 1973, we found out that Nixon had installed listening devices and recording capabilities in the Oval Office. When Congress learned that Nixon had recorded his conversations they subpoenaed the existing tapes, which led to a Supreme Court decision that forced Nixon to give up the tapes. When reviewed a mysterious segment of the tape was erased.
The boy showed good taste
While this was going on, Kirby came up with a Kamandi story about a group of apes who lived in the ruins of the Capitol in Wash. D.C. These apes were inspired by the words of the lost tapes that controlled their lives. The apes have formed a sect named the “bugs”. The hunters were called “plumbers” in honor of the mythical Nixon leak stoppers who broke into the Hotel. The sect’s society was built around mysterious spirit voices from the past heard thru the Watergate Sound-maker- a sonic device that can communicate, and destroy thru its amplified noise. After a tough battle, Kamandi and the Tigers are successful in beating back the apes and after dismantling the machine find that the source material was the lost Watergate tapes. When they attempt to play a tape they hear a short message and then a break. The message was “I want to make this perfectly clear”. This strange story appeared in Kamandi #15, dated March 1974. Seven months later Richard Nixon would resign the Presidency. One wonders if Jack received any blow back from such a political spoof during the height of the Country’s crisis. DC was a conservative operation and may not have liked such a partisan political statement.
Jack wasn’t one to usually let his politics intrude in his stories, but Richard Nixon brought out the worst in Kirby. Kirby had a political side. Jack’s son Neal reminisced in an interview for TJKC.
Pre-Kamandi Kamandi – God he hated Richard Nixon
TJKC: Would you consider him socially conscious?
NK: Oh absolutely. One thing I remember when Cesar Chavez was leading the grape boycotts in California. My mother came home with some grapes in a shopping bag, and he goes, “You can’t have those.” and he picks them up and throws them out the kitchen window. I remember we went to a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. It was a simple affair, they had a meal set up. There was an old homeless man standing near the door looking in. My father took the guy by the arm brought him inside, sat him down at the table, and made him a plate of food. (ST note: Just as the Torah commands: When we see a guest, we should see an opportunity–an opportunity to teach, embrace, and learn. It is only through welcoming the stranger that we can truly fulfill our mandate as the children of Israel who left the desert and dwelt in Sukkot.)
After the first 15 episodes, Kamandi started the irrevocable tumble into sameness, schmaltz, and childish silliness with only the occasional burst of Kirby greatness coming through. Jack’s art stayed strong but slipped into a little parody of Kirby grandeur when Jack seemed to be trying too hard for the amazing. The stories suffered from over relying on the graphic end rather than the literary merit. Too often the scenes are too big—they lost the smaller plot cohesiveness needed for a good story.
Days of future past – DC did exist
Kirby was given an ongoing war series called The Losers in a struggling DC war book Our Fighting Forces, and provided 12 issues. Kirby took this lemon and made some of the sweetest lemonade ever seen in funny books. These were some of the most personal stories Kirby had ever written; torn from his war time hell and the pages seemed to be written in blood. The Losers were a collection of DC’s small impact World War 2 heroes, whose own series had been cancelled. The series was very odd. There’s a pretty unhealthy dose of self-loathing within the Losers when you think about it; it seemed like every issue’s cover featured one or all of the Losers in very dire straits, with one of them yelling “Just another reason we were BORN to LOSE!” or something to that effect. However, none of that self-hatred is on display in the Kirby LOSERS stories I have here. Indeed, at a Kirby Panel in San Diego, Mark Evanier commented on how the very title of the feature must have rubbed Jack Kirby the wrong way, as “he would never think of a U.S. serviceman as a loser.” Kirby himself had been drafted in the fall of 1943 and served in the Third Army combat infantry. The series seemed to be rudderless until Kirby took it over. The hard core war themes are so different from the irreverent nature of the earlier Sgt. Fury books. The dangers are so magnified and the horror more pronounced. Yet Jack still found a way to make them enjoyable reads. One of the characters was Captain Storm, a P.T. boat skipper who had lost his boat and his leg in an attack. Storm got around with a wooden leg, and Jack could never figure out which leg was real and which was wood. One panel it would be the left and the very next panel it might be the right. Kirby’s penchant for details was never worse, but it didn’t matter.
The Losers meet Patton
The real question is what was a gimpy P T Boat skipper doing marching around in an infantry brigade? Many consider this short series as the best work Kirby ever did in mainstream comics. In #152, Kirby tells a tale of tired soldiers coming upon a shelled out town and trying to secure it. It ends when the squad runs into Gen. George Patton himself and receives a dressing down. It’s not your usual everybody’s happy at the end tome.
It is of course relevant to remember that the real soldier Jack Kirby did have a run in with Gen. Patton and it too was not pleasant.
Kirby’s war wasn’t pretty
Just as this occurred, many of the young artists joined a new group; the Academy of Comic Book Arts. This quickly served as a vehicle for the artists listing their grievances. The new group was led by firebrand Neal Adams, and Archie Goodwin. Their demands had found no immediate ear among the companies.
After Martin Goodman sold Marvel, it was with the intention to keep his son Chip working at Marvel. Soon, Marvel summarily let Chip go in order to expand Stan Lee’s authority. So Martin financed a new venture for Chip that he named Atlas Comics. He hired indy vet Jeff Rovin as editor. He raided and filled his bullpen with ex-Marvel people like Larry Lieber, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, and Neal Adams. Filled with great hopes and praising press coverage they started out with a bang—copying every genre and character that Marvel sold. Their aim was gutsy-take on No.1 straight up.
How Atlas decided to do this was revolutionary; they overthrew the whole dynamic of how comics were done. They offered the artists, complete return of original art; copyright ownership for the characters, and a higher page rate. This guaranteed that the hot artists and writers would flock to the new company.
Despite these crumbs, there were problems. The young writers did not bring great innovations, they brought carnage. These Marvel clones outdid the competition in only one way—body count, and nothing Martin demanded could stem the blood flow. Martin’s demands to match up with Marvel were too much. Lieber and Rovin explained that Marvel’s growth was organic over a long period of time and couldn’t be duplicated in just a year or so. Martin’s continuous demands finally led to Jeff Rovin leaving as it was left to Larry Lieber to run the business—but Martin had lost too much money and there was no way to recoup. Sadly, while Lieber was on jury duty he received a call to see Chip Goodman. He knew what was coming. Martin decided against throwing good money after bad.
Atlas Comics made no lasting mark on comics; they produced nothing of consequence, but their impact was unimaginable on the industry itself. As Jeff Rovin said when asked of any significance; “One was an ownership/profit sharing contract for artists and writers on any character(s) they created, and the other was the return of all artwork. Neither of these were being practiced at the time, and Martin grudgingly agreed to do so when he realized that that kind of arrangement, coupled with high page rates was a means of getting talent to work for us.” No one knew just what was set in motion would one day overwhelm the working relationships on the industry as a whole.
Jack Kirby was under contract to DC and never even considered heading to Atlas. When his contract ran out, Atlas was already floundering. It’s a fun what-if for Kirby to finally reap some of the rewards he had fought so strongly for.
They even stole the logo blurbs
Unfortunately at DC, Kirby threw concept after concept against the wall and nothing else stuck. OMAC, a wonderfully cynical idea, failed despite a plethora of sci-fi concepts and dazzling art. Manhunter (a continuation of the early S&K concept), Atlas, the kid group Dingbats of Danger Street all failed when offered in First Issue Specials—a test market book.
OMAC: Kirby at his most cubistic – A throwback concept a poor man’s Conan
An oddity came about when Joe Simon approached Carmine Infantino with a proposal to update the old S&K Sandman series. Carmine liked the idea but had an even better one. Why not have Joe write it and Jack Kirby draw it, just like in the old days.
Jack wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea but agreed. The result was perhaps the most hyped book in DC’s history; the return of Simon and Kirby. The book was no great shake, Joe had lost his mojo a while back and this story didn’t recapture any of the zaniness one might expect. Kirby’s artwork was Kirby’s modern artwork, with no attempt made to recapture the wartime S&K fluidity and zaniness. Didn’t matter a whole lot, the book was a smash. Joe says it was DC’s best seller of the year. The series was given the go ahead for more issues, without Jack, though he did do the covers. He did return to draw the books with issue #4, but the series written by a DC hack regular was lackluster to say the least. Don’t know if it helped, but the cover of No.4 spotlighted Jack’s name as doing interior work.
Sandman #4 Jack returns Justice Inc. #2 – Even on hack books, Jack never hacked it—interesting take on stereotype
Kirby filled in a few other titles as he was working out the last couple months of his contract which called for a certain number of pages; but there was no there there. Kirby’s mind was once again thinking about starting fresh at a new/old home. He had run into Roy Thomas and when the subject turned to his time at DC, Kirby informed him that his contract was running out and he was available if Marvel would have him back.
Jack’s time at DC was short, and it’s hard to categorize. It wasn’t a failure; Jack produced some of the best work of his career, and enjoyed his modicum of freedom, and was paid his best rate ever while never missing a day. It was personal, powerful, intriguing, and cumbersome. It resonates just as strongly today. The characters have been revived time and time again and are now vital parts of the DC canon.
Simon and Kirby together– once more names on the cover – inks by Royer
Darkseid has become one of the great arch villains at DC, alongside the Joker and Lex Luther. But it also wasn’t a success; Jack would always tell anyone who would listen that his job was to make sales for the company. That’s how he judged his work and on that basis, his work never found the deep audience it deserved. I think it galled him that his most personal work wasn’t accepted. He knew they would eventually find an audience. There are many theories as to why; some claim behind the scenes machinations by editors, some blame lying sales reports, some blame DC’s business decisions and some blame Marvel’s business decisions, they may all be part right and we’ll never know the whole story, but taken for what it was, the comic world was better off for his time there.
Just as Jack was leaving, he received another commission from Pro! Magazine. This time they wanted a couple of illustrations to adorn an article on legendary quarterback, Fran Tarkenton.
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
On March 16th 1965, an 82 year old German Jew, who had escaped the horror of Nazi Germany, had run out of alternatives. Alice Herz’s campaigns to end the war in Viet Nam had proven fruitless. In a final act of desperation Alice went outside and on an urban Detroit street doused herself with gasoline and set herself on fire, thus becoming the first American to self-immolate in protest of the war. She wasn’t the last. This human torch didn’t fly or throw flame balls- she died a horrible painful death. Herz wrote a last testament, which she distributed to several friends and fellow activists before her death. The testament specifically refers to her decision to follow the protest methods of the Buddhist Vietnamese monks and nuns, whose acts of self-immolation had received worldwide attention. Confiding to a friend before her death, Herz remarked that she had used all of the accepted protest methods available to activists—including marching, protesting, and writing countless articles and letters—and she wondered what else she could do. Later in March, Martin Luther King would lead a civil rights march on Selma, Alabama. In April, 25,000 people would march on Washington D.C. in protest of the war. The perfect storm of civil disobedience had arrived and America would never be the same.
Working away – Hot day in Detroit
Meanwhile, back in England, the Beatles were awarded MBE’s (Member of the Order of British Empire) at Buckingham Palace; much to the dismay of the stodgy aristocracy. Prime Minister Harold Wilson explained, “I saw the Beatles, as having a transforming effect on the minds of youth, mostly for the good. It kept a lot of kids off the streets. They introduced many many young people to music, which in itself was a good thing. A lot of old stagers might have regarded it as idiosyncratic music, but the Mersey sound was a new important thing. That’s why they deserved such recognition.” – That, plus the millions of pounds that the Beatles and their imitators had brought to the British economy.
America was on fire! Los Angeles was ablaze, In perhaps the worst rioting in American history the black residents of the Watts section of L.A. said enough was enough. For 6 days in August 1965 they burned and rioted in defiance of a police force they felt had a long history of brutality and prejudice against the black populace. Seen as part of the civil rights movement that had been active and growing for decades, these riots were the resultant explosions of a long simmering animosity. After the Watts riot, inner cities boiling over became commonplace with it being a rarity for a major city to be spared.
The U.S. was at war with itself. To Marvel this wasn’t enough. They needed a real villain, one that made our little worries seem silly. Suddenly, the Universe was against us. From out of the stars came a monster so vast and omnipotent that the Earth itself was of no more importance than the latest buffet at Golden Corral. This was God, and he was hungry. But Jack’s pacing was such that our danger was doled out a little at a time. First we get introduced to God’s herald, a cosmic being whose job it was to go out and rustle up happy meals for God. Jack’s answer was the Silver Surfer. A chrome covered humanoid who surfed the cosmos like Duke Kahanamoku on the shores of Oahu. Surfing was the hot new sport filling up teen movies like Gidget, Ride the Wild Surf, and Beach Blanket Bingo, while Wild World of Sports began showing surf competitions, and Rock and Roll led with the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. The sport was graceful, dynamic and centered on the perfect human form.
The Surfer was the ultimate comic character—constant movement, no clothes, and could go where no man had gone before. The surf board was a wonderful accessory; it swooped and dove, and lead the action. The first chapter of the saga was the FF vs. Silver Surfer, who treated them with disdain as he checked out this world as a main course. The FF had been warned by the Watcher that the end was near, since Galactus was an unstoppable force. Their every effort against the Surfer was swatted away as insignificant. Yet The Thing strikes a telling blow that sends the Surfer falling into the studios of Alicia Masters.
Size – strength – and grace
While the Surfer is down, Galactus lands and begins assembling his world-eater. Knowing man has no defense, the Watcher ignores his pledge of no-interference and sends Johnny on a space trek to find a weapon to cause Galactus pause. The other FF members try to disrupt and delay Galactus plans only to be swatted away by his minions.
The Surfer recovers in Alicia’s studio and begins to understand that this civilization has purpose and reason. For once he realizes that he must stand up against his master. The last chapter is the Surfer battling and aggravating his boss, only to be swatted away as easily as the FF had been. Time is running out and even the Surfer realizes he can do nothing to save Earth. Just as Galactus is ready to operate his machines, Johnny Storm returns with a weapon to fight Galactus, Reed takes this weapon—the ultimate nullifier– and soon figures it out and confronts Galactus. Galactus realizes just what this weapon
Bite this Michaelangelo – comics x10
could do in the hands of a lower civilization, and backs off. He agrees to leave this world untouched, but as a parting sense of pique, he imprisons his former herald on this world. This mixture of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and the biblical fallen angel was worlds above anything ever offered to the public before. Jack’s visuals sent this series into a whole new stratosphere. Never had raw power been so explosive and effectively drawn before. His pictures of the Surfer and Galactus surpassed any artistic representation ever done before, Jack’s art entered the realm of the Greats—not even Picasso or Goya would ever present such raw power graphically. It was doing what no artist had ever done. It gave form to unsurpassed power and relegated man to insignificance, yet still showed man at his most godly. Jack took the comic book to a whole new level, so high that it may never be equaled. The Silver Surfer became a symbol of questioning and humanity and haunted belief never seen before in comics. Stan Lee so loved this character that he forbade others from using him. Yet Stan Lee admits that the character was completely created by Jack Kirby. Stan says he was shocked when he first saw this flying icon. Jack had his own ideas, but was usurped from letting him grow. Whenever people talk about what is best about comics, The Fantastic Four #48-50 is always raised. If FF #25-26 stand as the best all-time fight issues, than The Galactus Saga stands supreme as comics as philosophical treatise. My one complaint is that the ending was a little too contrived, Jack had used a similar “Watcher gives the FF an unearthly machine” idea back in The Fantastic Four Annual #3. But it does add another wrinkle to have the Watcher disregard his oath not to interfere. Yet Jack wasn’t finished showing just what comics could do. Jack’s next step was to go to the very soul of what America was about; to take America where it had never gone before. Jack Kirby took comics into the mythological realm of Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth”. Or, as he put it “The Hero’s Journey” Comics had become adult reading.
This isn’t Archie or Casper – Even as action figures they’re mythic
The boys become men
The Beatles let go of the average and took pop music into the mythic when they released Rubber Soul in Dec. 1965. They actively melded pop with Dylanlike lyrics, Byrdlike harmonies, world music and a more sophisticated, worldly, and at times ambiguous message. It seems like a huge step into maturation that left teenage pap far behind. Nowhere Man is a searing portrait of man as an inconsequential character in a larger tapestry. While Norwegian Wood made a single man’s search for love into a cosmic quest of mythic importance. Suddenly rock music became a journey of growth rather than dance steps and stolen kisses. The Beatles threw off their teen mantle and announced they were serious adults.
Positive black characters had been a rarity in mainstream comics. Stan and Jack figured it was time to end that lunacy. Their first attempt was in making one of Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos an African American. Gabe Jones was a bugle playing GI in the multicultural commando unit. His race had been a focal point of several plotlines in the early stories and his bravery and dignity –like Jackie Robinson–never faltered. But Gabe was still a minor character in a book full of unique characters. It was time to create a major character strong enough to stand on its own and where else would Lee and Kirby introduce him other than the Fantastic Four- the comic where most of the important new characters were introduced. In issue #52 July 1966, the Fantastic Four meet up with the Black Panther and his home country of Wakanda in darkest Africa. The Black Panther is the chief of the Wakandans –a small independent country made rich by a natural mineral called Vibranium. T’challa, the Panther’s given name, had used this wealth to promote education and modernity on his small nation and has created a miraculous scientifically advanced country, deeply hidden in the African jungle. But Wakanda had an enemy, and the Panther had to test himself to see if he was ready to take on this enemy. The final test was to see if he could defeat the greatest team of superheroes imaginable. Though he did not defeat the FF, he certainly held them to a stalemate. The idea of heroes testing themselves against each other was a common plot line for Marvel. The heroes fought each other as often as villains. The fight against the villainous Klaw–Master of Sound -would showcase the Panther’s bravery, physical prowess and human decency. He was a perfect fit for admittance to Marvel’s pantheon of heroes. Later we would learn the unique process used at Marvel when we see the actual steps used to create this character. He started out being known as Coal Tiger a very unwieldy name.
Jack always helped out – Intro to a black super-hero
Some have complained that the concept was weakened by making the Panther a super-rich, European educated, African monarch, instead of an American from the inner city. Others disagree saying that making T’challa an African was even braver by introducing a new hero from the emerging continent of Africa, rather than making him an American. Africa had never had a particularly positive image in American culture. More of an after thought used mostly for Tarzan movie backgrounds where the black populace was useful for carrying bags and feeding the lions. Lee and Kirby transformed Tarzan into a black native- the equal to any white hero.
On his blog, Julius Chamblis writes; “The Black Panther provides the visual cue of difference that broke the barrier of white heroic privilege, but not the cultural perspective that created it. Removed from the U.S. experience by national identity, personal history, and individual motivation the Panther’s appearance did not directly address the stifling effect of racial prejudice. The Panther looked different, but like Kirby, his actions affirm his right to inclusion. Like current debates about post-racial thinking, Kirby was not beyond racial identification, he merely attempted to devalue it.”
Black panther logo – brother Stokely
The earliest use of the term Black Panther was for the heralded tank crew fighting in the 3rd Army during WW2. As a World War 2 veteran, Jack was certainly familiar with Patton’s Panthers, The Black Panther all-black tank battalion which led the battle of Lorraine and Metz and was a favorite of Gen. Patton.
The Black Panther symbol predated Kirby’s use of the title. The all-black tank group that led the march into Metz were known as the Black Panthers. Another earlier but not well known use was as the sporting logo for historically black Clark College in Atlanta Ga. It was used in 1965 by the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to help signup black voters in Lowndes County Alabama. Formed by oft-arrested radical Stokely Carmichael and his Students For a Non-violent Coordinating Committee, the LCFO was on the cusp of the rising black power movement. There was national coverage by Life magazine.
A couple months later in Oakland California a group of black nationalists would form a new group espousing Black Power in all things, chief among them the end of police brutality, full and equal black employment, and self-realization of all black people. This group would transform into perhaps the most radical black organization of all. The name of the group was the Black Panther Party. Three black Californians, Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Seale, asked for permission to use the Black Panther emblem that the Lowndes County Freedom Organization had adopted, for their newly formed Black Panther Party. Stan Lee worried about the name being appropriated by a radical group and changes were suggested. Ideas were passed. But luckily none were accepted. The Black Panther stayed the Black Panther and he became a part of the Marvel Universe.
Great first effort but no gloves – Kirby on the cover
1966 saw the first appearance of a new toy; Captain Action from Ideal Toys continued the evolution of the articulated doll such as Barbie, and for the boys, G.I.Joe—complete with multiple costumes and accessories. Comic characters had crossed over to toys. Action’s gimmick was that he could morph into well known fictional characters as diverse as the Lone Ranger and Flash Gordon. With interchangeable masks, and costumes the Captain could become Superman, Batman, The Phantom, Flash, Aquaman, Steve Canyon, Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, and from Marvel, Captain America, and Sgt. Fury. Marvel was paid well for the licenses yet never shared with Jack Kirby. Not even for the artwork that accompanied the boxes. Further series expanded on the Captain Action retinue with the likes of Spider-Man and Green Hornet. Captain Action got his own comic book by DC, got his own powers, but lost the ability to change into other characters. As Captain Action’s universe expanded, his son joined in, he even received his own archenemy. (Dr. Evil) The merchandising of Marvel’s characters was exploding upon the masses. And no benefit filtered down to the artists. Cartoons, T-shirts, toys, Halloween costumes, rings, pj’s, puzzles, games of all sort sported recognizable art from the bullpen.
Too generic just a GI Joe costume – no half beard – Should have ripped up uniform
Roy Huggins created and produced a new series Run For Your Life; with perhaps the epitome of the hero with a problem meme. Ben Gazzara played Paul Bryant, a lawyer who has learned he has but two years to live. An anthology style series with each episode in a different location and different people in moments of personal crisis, which the hero helps resolve.
Ben Gazarra legging it
1965 would see the Beatles receiving their own cartoon feature. The adventures were little vignettes based on Beatle songs, plus a couple sing-a-long tunes for audience participation. Produced in Australia, the animation was quite good.
Hysterical local TV host for the cartoons with better costume than the movie Cap – Find this baby!!!
In 1966, Marvel sold the rights of several characters to Gantray-Lawrence to produce cartoons for afternoon viewing. Thor, Submariner, Cap, Iron Man and Hulk hit the airwaves in late ’66 to good response. Spidey appeared in 1967. The animation was of the lowest order–barely stats from comic pages with moving lips and arms and legs. The best aspect might have been the cheesy opening songs lovingly remembered even today. There were a couple commercial tie ins. (note Captain America card blurb) In 1967, The FF got their own cartoon series with much superior production values due to Hanna Barbera’s larger budget. As a publicity campaign for Marvel, they were a resounding success. Jack was taken by surprise with the cartoons. “If I’d known they were gonna do that with it I would’ve demanded to be paid a lot more” Jack went to Martin Goodman and complained. Goodman told Jack that the company wasn’t making anything off the cartoons, they were great advertising for the comics. Kirby had heard that before, but there was nothing he could do about it.
1966 was a good year
At the time, very few managers of pop groups needed to worry about how much money music merchandising could generate as very few artists survived long enough in the pop domain to be a viable investment. As far as Epstein was concerned it was merely good public relations, and any revenue that arose from the sale of Beatles-endorsed products was regarded as merely found money that supplemented the Beatles’ individual incomes from live performances and record sales. “We did our best; some people have said it wasn’t good enough. That’s easy to say with 20/20 hindsight but remember that there were no rules. We were making it up as we went along.” In America Epstein had met the well-known divorce lawyer, Nat Weiss, whom Epstein later asked to take over the merchandising affairs of The Beatles and NEMS. Weiss would later state, “The reality is that The Beatles never saw a penny out of the merchandising. Comic books artists, much less publishers had even less skill and knowledge about the merchandise possibilities.
Jack’s dream came true! His son had graduated high school, and was going to college. Neal had been accepted to prestigious Syracuse University, the same college that Jack always erroneously said that Joe Simon attended. Neal said that growing up it was considered a Jewish tradition. The son grows up and goes to college; it was never an option, it was expected. But Neal knew of his father’s shame at not finishing high school, and he knew how proud his dad was that his son had surpassed him.
In August 1966 the Beatles headlined a concert at Shea Stadium before 56,000 screaming fans; at the time, the largest attendance ever for a rock concert. Coincidentally, the Fantastic Four and Thor hit perhaps their highest peak of creativity.
Late in 1966, in another outside commission, Jack drew a promotional poster for a new TV show. Captain Nice was an NBC comedy series featuring William Daniels as a mild mannered police detective who becomes a super hero when he discovers a secret formula. He fights evil in a homemade costume his mother devised. The series was created by Buck Henry, who had also created Get Smart, a spoof on the spy genre. Jack’s part came about when John J. Graham, the Director of Design for NBC, was told to come up with an advertising poster for the new series. John’s son, Bruce was a big Kirby fan, and when his father mentioned the job, Bruce suggested Kirby for the artist. The poster shows the good captain flying over the town while assorted bad guys take pot shots at him. A second drawing showing a close up of three cops looking out a window was added into the commercials. Kirby’s poster was shown on commercials using a fast cut animation style jumping from image to image, promoting the new series.
Chic Stone supplied the inking for the poster, and Kirby colored. Jack rewarded the young Bruce Graham with a personally signed Captain Nice sketch. The series premiered in the fall of 1967. Chic remembers the circumstances. Jack’s sense of timing was sometimes askew. He and his daughter awoke Chic in the middle of the night. He was carrying a huge piece of illustration board which was covered with brown paper. Chic noted; “Jack lifted the brown paper, and I was awestruck by the most magnificent Kirby pencil I had ever seen. It was for NBC and a new show called Capt. Nice. “I couldn’t believe my ears when he asked me to ink it. We negotiated a price, but Jack never knew that I would have been thrilled to do it gratis. When I put my brush to that drawing, it knew just where to go. It was a marriage of pencil and ink. I would love to see that artwork one more time.” The show debuted in Jan. 1967.
Kirby reaches out
In an outside commission, in late 1966, Jack Kirby had been asked to draw a story for Esquire Magazine. Issue #402, dated May 1967 focused on the Kennedy assassination, and Kirby drew a 3 page tale of Jack Ruby’s life immediately before killing Lee Harvey Oswald. The art was also finished by longtime inker Chic Stone. The art was more realistic than Kirby’s comic art, and he told the story in a straight forward manner with lots of legal testimony added to the text. A few months earlier Kirby had provided some illustrations for an article about the rise of Marvel Publications at colleges. (#394, Sept. 1966) The magazine made quite a fuss about how Marvel had taken over the colleges. There was a mix-up in cover choices and money so the magazine promised Jack more work to make up for it. As usual, Jack got screwed. A later promised job never came to fruition.
Jack Kirby and Stan Lee had done their job well. At a time of declining readership, Marvel was unique; its sales were rising and the books were reaching markets never imagined. Colleges were going bonkers over Marvel’s characters. They formed clubs and set up classes to study the phenomenon. As the public face, Stan Lee was suddenly BMOC and hosting seminars and talks on major campuses. Stan was on radio, and in newspapers and major magazines, always touting Marvel and himself. Martin Goodman’s once lowly comic division was now spewing forth dollars. Merchandising such as models, and T-shirts were bringing in unexpected profits. Martin Goodman’s company was a red cape flapping in the bull’s faces.
Afternoon cartoons were bringing in new fans, who bought more books. Martin began rewarding the comic division by paying higher, more competitive page rates, which in turn brought in more artists and better inkers, but not voluntarily. When asked if Marvel offered Kirby rate increases, Kirby states: ‘No, no. I had to ask for them. There’s a class system in comics.” “I had to make a living. I was a married man.
Kirbytech at its pinnacle – Kirby’s super cocoon + child becomes master
I had a home. I had children. I had to make a living. That is the common pursuit of every man. It just happened that my living collided with the times. Circumstances forced me to do it. They forced me. There wasn’t a sense of excitement. It was a horrible, morbid atmosphere. If you can find excitement in that kind of atmosphere the excitement was fear.”
1968 Marvel gets the gold ring – Jack got tired of correcting covers and working over other artists work for little or no pay
The Marvel method of creating the stories was becoming a problem. Some great artists could not adjust to the idea of self-developing the story from a short synopsis. They came up working from complete scripts, and in some cases were simply not good storytellers. For others they needed a bit of guidance to adapt to the new methodology, and dynamics. Unhappily Kirby began doing layouts to help these artists, such as George Tuska, Werner Roth, and John Romita, to get used to the new in-house dynamic style. There was little or no extra pay for this assistance.
Gil Kane recognized Kirby’s contribution;
“Jack was the single most influential figure in the turnaround in Marvel’s fortunes from the time he rejoined the company … It wasn’t merely that Jack conceived most of the characters that are being done, but … Jack’s point of view and philosophy of drawing became the governing philosophy of the entire publishing company and, beyond the publishing company, of the entire field … [Marvel took] Jack and use[d] him as a primer. They would get artists … and they taught them the ABCs, which amounted to learning Jack Kirby. … Jack was like the Holy Scripture and they simply had to follow him without deviation. That’s what was told to me … It was how they taught everyone to reconcile all those opposing attitudes to one single master point of view”
The artists who were creating these plots and stories were becoming disillusioned at Stan claiming sole writing credit. They wanted more money for doing more work. They began questioning and demanding what they thought was only proper. It was their storytelling talents that were selling more books and they wanted a larger slice of the pie. At an earlier time, this would have been inconceivable. The feudal setup of the comic industry made it impossible for the artists to make any kind of demands on the owners. The imbalance of power was so great that even the creators of the largest money maker in comic history were unable to demand credit, or royalties, much less ownership of their creations. Siegel and Shuster, the creators of Superman had been embroiled in a protracted legal conflict with DC comics over the ownership of the Big Guy.
At every turn they had been rejected by the courts. The other artists had kept a keen eye on the proceedings and with each loss, they felt their power diminish. The idea of credits, and royalties, and reprint fees, and copyright to creations was an unimaginable goal. Such was the power of the publishers. Several writers of note over at DC tried to organize, and when the company found out they were summarily released and replaced overnight.
From Kirby in an interview with TCJ:
“The artist is the lowest form of life on the rung of the ladder. The publishers are usually businessmen who deal with businessmen. They deal with promotional people. They deal with financial people. They deal with accountants. They deal with tax people, but have absolutely no interest in artists; in individual artists…They pat you on your head and say “How are you Jackie?” Things like that…..Their accountants are more important to them than you are, and yet you’re making the sales that they depend on. It’s an odd setup, but it exists…..Superman is the classic example, see? All these businessmen are the top of the pyramid, but the entire pyramid is resting on two little stones, and the pyramid denies the existence of these stones because it’s so big. It’s loaded with officials, but the little stones are the ones that are holding it up because that’s where the support is coming from, and I was in the same position.”
But this was the Sixties, a time where every long held assumption was questioned. The first crack was not by the comic artists, but by another group of underpaid and unappreciated artists. In mid-1960, screen writers, represented by the Writers Guild of America went on a long strike.
Mark Evanier; professional writer and comic historian notes;
In 1951, the Guild began to represent the writers of that newfangled thing called television, and in 1955, a number of regional and smaller groups that represented writers’ interests were absorbed and reorganized. We wound up with a Writers Guild of America, West and a Writers Guild of America, East.
From then on, the WGA’s history is largely a series of strikes or threatened strikes, each of which resulted in the establishment of some new right or principle. They won the right to residuals when TV shows were rerun; they won the right to screen credits, setting up a system of rules and arbitrations that stopped the guy who ran the studio from slapping his nephew’s name on your script. The strike of 1960 – which lasted 151 days, making it the longest strike in Hollywood until the Writers Guild later bettered its own record – was the one that secured a pension plan as well as residual payments when a movie was run on television.
The history of TV credits and creative rights and comic books have many parallels. At Warner Bros, the spiritual parent of Martin Goodman’s Marvel, Roy Huggins, the creative genius who guided all the interlocking series, had been constantly thwarted by William T. Orr, the President of WB TV division. Orr once switched the order of the first two episodes of Maverick so that Huggins couldn’t claim credit for creation purposes. Even more famously, Jack Warner deliberately had the pilot to 77 Sunset Strip screened briefly at movie theatres in the Caribbean in order to legally establish that the television series derived from a WB film, rather than, as was actually the case, several books Huggins had written in the 1940s. Since this was not the only occasion on which Warner had found a way to circumvent Huggins’ creative rights, Huggin’s left the studio soon thereafter. Following this experience, he increasingly demanded ownership of all television concepts he authored. By the mid-1960s, he had added this demand into a standard part of all contracts into which he entered.
“I was getting paid my royalty and my fee whether I did the show or not. If I conceived the show, and got it on the air, anyone could produce it and I would still get paid just as if I was doing it . . . That became known as “the Huggins Contract”. Every producer in television would say ‘I want the Huggins contract’, and some of them got it”.
—Roy Huggins, interview with the Archive of American Television, July 21, 1998
Sadly, comic artists would never unionize, but there was a mounting belief that they deserved more credit and payment for their works. Stan’s personal affection for his artists led to his predilection for listing credits, this would come back to hurt him. Stan was a caring man caught in an uncaring process. First, with the hard headed Wally Wood, whom Stan had heralded on the cover on Daredevil #5 as the next great thing. Wally took to the Marvel method as a duck to water; he personally raised Daredevil’s profile from a low tier character to a top line character with some great stories to match the dramatic costume change. Suddenly the character was allowed access to the top tier villains. Daredevil’s battle with Submariner in Daredevil #7 is considered one of the seminal comics of the Marvel Age. Yet behind the scenes, Wally and Stan were in a constant battle over credits.
If Wally was to plot and pace the stories, he wanted credit as a writer. For Stan’s part the writer credit was sacrosanct; it belonged to him alone, and the money that came with it. It’s important to note that though Stan was the editor, his writing was as a freelancer and he got full writer’s pay for the stories he was co-plotting. There could be no compromise and Wally left after less than 10 Daredevil stories. In an article many years later Wally would write “”Stanley” came up with two surefire ideas… the first one was ‘Why not let the artists WRITE the stories as well as draw them?’… And the second was… ALWAYS SIGN YOUR NAME ON TOP… BIG!!” And the rest is history…Stanley of course became rich and famous … over the bodies of people like Bill and Jack. Bill, (Everett) who had created the character (Submariner) that had made his father (uncle) rich wound up coloring and doing odd jobs. And Jack? Well, a friend of mine summed it up like this. “Stanley and Jack have a conference, then Jack goes home, and after a couple of month’s gestation, a new book is born. Stanley gets all the money and all the credit… And all poor old Jack gets is a sore ass hole.” This was the first of many breaks in the façade of a Merry Marvel bullpen, but the fans never knew. Stan’s bullpen bulletins spun a tale of nothing but jocularity and solidarity among the artists. Yet Stan’s bullpens made superstars out of the artists.
If the Emperor’s new clothes were beginning to fray at Marvel, the Beatles were suddenly naked. Despite a three year run of unparalleled chart dominance and critical acclaim the public had turned against them. A manufactured American band knocked the Beatles off the top rung. The Monkees were Hollywood created to take advantage of the new sounds and popularity pioneered by the Liverpool lads, but dismayingly they started to sell more records. Even worse, an offhand, but not untrue, remark in a small magazine interview by John Lennon comparing the Beatles to Jesus Christ had escalated into a full blown revolt by Churches and youth groups that started to burn Beatles records and ban them from radio play. Cynthia Lennon in her biography says. “In an interview John likened the Beatles to Jesus Christ. His truly honest assessment of their popularity offended the God-fearing, clean living Americans who lived in the Bible belt of America. His views were perhaps misconstrued. John was very bewildered and frightened by the reaction that his words created in the States. Beatle albums were burnt in a mass orgy of self-righteousness indignation. Letters arrived at the house full of threats, hate and venom. Finally to try to squash the revolt John Lennon offered a somewhat tepid apology. “If I had said that television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it. It’s a fact, in reference to England, we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it, as a fact and it’s true, more for England than here. I’m not saying we’re better or greater or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing, or whatever it is, you know, I just said what I said and it was wrong, or was taken wrong, and now it’s all this!”
Shades of 1955
It helped that in August of 1966 they released their most refined album. Revolver is their finest collection of songs minus some of the over production of their last couple albums. But cracks had formed. John went off to Spain to film a movie while George left for India to visit the Maharishi and study with Ravi Shankar. At an art gallery in London John Lennon meets Yoko Ono. Suddenly the single minded purpose of the lads gave way to individual needs. Egos were taking over. I tend to think this is a natural progression seen in many successful collaborations. Two being one can only last so long.
The racks were rocking in Aug. 1966
Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby had followed keenly the rise of Marvel, and they constantly hit up Goodman for a raise in page rates. Marvel had slowly risen close to the industry leader DC. They also noted that their graphics were being used to sell T-shirts, toys, clubs, games and even bed clothing, and that they got nothing extra for their graphics. They confronted Stan and Martin and were told that when the comic division started making a bigger profit, that they would be taken care of.
Steve Ditko had built Spider-Man into Marvel’s best-selling book. Steve was also in the process of developing a very rigid personality enthralled with the philosophy of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. The black and white nature of this belief made it hard for Steve to compromise, and Stan increasingly found it hard to work with him. This is ironic as it was Ditko whom Stan loved writing for most of all. Ditko, like Wally Wood, also demanded credit for what he considered the writing since he was providing the plots and pacing for the book. Spider-Man was too important to the line and for once Stan relented and in issue 26 the credit for co-plotting was added to Ditko’s name. Despite this band aid, pretty soon things became so bad that Stan and Steve no longer talked and all communications were passed through a go-between.
To give an example of Stan’s disconnect with the anger of the artists not receiving proper credit, the consummate pro Dick Ayers tells of his growing animus with not getting credit and confronting Stan. One day Dick approached Stan; “Stan, I think I should be paid for co-writing your stories….you don’t even give me credit…you just sign your name as writer!” To which the unconvinced Stan replies. “My-oh-my you do have an ego! Okay, I’ll add a couple bucks to your page rate! But not your name as writer…”
Even on the girl books cracks were forming. Stan Goldberg, the longtime Millie the Model artist told interviewer Jim Amash; Stan would drive me home and we’d plot our stories in the car. I’d say to Stan, How’s this? Millie loses her job.” He’d say, ”Great! Give me 25 pages.” And that took him off the hook. One time I was in Stan’s office and I told him, “I don’t have another plot.” Stan got out of his chair and walked over to me, looked me in the face, and said very seriously, “I don’t ever want to hear you say you can’t think of another plot.” Then he walked back and sat down in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more.”
For Kirby’s part, he was old school. Credits were nice, but he worked to care for a wife and four children. As long as he could get higher page rates, the secondary demands would stay on the back-burner. The Marvel method was its own reward for it meant that Stan would mostly leave Kirby alone to take his series where he wanted them to go. Jack’s trips to the Marvel offices dropped to once or twice a month.
The most aggravating part was Stan’s little niggling demands for page redos and doing layouts for competent artists who Jack felt needed no help from him. Worse yet, Kirby got little extra money for redoing and laying out pages. Kirby’s pride also started taking a hit as more and more, in all the articles and interviews it was Stan who was credited as the main creative force on the books. Kirby knew how the system worked, but it smarted when in an interview for the New York Herald-Tribune, Stan was presented as a creative visionary and Jack Kirby as a drooling toady in an ill fitting suit. This so enraged Roz that she personally called Stan to demand he get a retraction of some sort. Stan played the aggrieved and ignorant party. Jack soon became tired of being told by Stan to redo his first cover and come up with a new one. The time it took to make a new one was never compensated by the company. Similarly, whenever he went into the studio, Stan would gladhand him to correct parts of other artists covers for no money. Stan’s charm was running thin. And Jack’s ego was roiling.
In 1966, Harvey Publishing contacted Joe Simon about jumping on the bandwagon of Jack Kirby at Marvel. Harvey had Joe put together a couple issues that featured heavily Jack Kirby art from old Harvey inventory. In Blastoff, Joe assembles stories originally scheduled for Race For The Moon #4 with a Kirby collage type cover. In Fighting American Joe put together some unpublished Kirby stories from Fighting American and padded it with old inventory plus a newly drawn story by George Tuska. The requisite Kirby cover is a doozy. Joe also put together two issues of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Joe also created a new super hero universe for Harvey, hiring a young newcomer named Jim Steranko to help create it. Jack was competing with perhaps his best art ever, Moody, strong, and an endless imagination.
The songwriting style of Lennon/McCartney had started out as a seamless symbiosis of the two artists; a smooth combination of style and inspiration, a blending of strengths and weaknesses. But with the release of “Can’t Buy Me Love” a song written solely by Paul, the team began a new process and a friendly rivalry began where they began writing separately and fighting for who would get the next single. This competition also affected George Harrison, who was becoming a strong songwriter himself. Yet he always found himself the odd man out when it came to singles. He did manage to usually get one song per album, but never the prize. It wouldn’t be until 1969 and the release of “Something” that Harrison’s talents would be rewarded. The competition led to an outpouring of superb songs. George Martin’s producing never allowed it to get out of hand. In the studio all players added in bits that added to the final product.
In 1967, the Beatles released their most lavishly crafted LP yet. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would become the record against which all others would be judged. Its success was so astounding, and the production values so leading that none could ever live up to it. Even future Beatles albums couldn’t live up to it so that they specifically chose a lower fidelity retro rock and roll feel for their records.
Rock and roll kitchen sink – awe inspiring
At the same time Jack and Stan released the ultimate FF books. #66 and 67 has Jack give the world the ultimate creation, Him. Rising from a manmade cocoon, the creation is so above humanity that it realizes it must leave mankind alone. Though not by Kirby, this creation would become the super being Warlock. No creation was ever left behind. It was not without problems. Stan missed Kirby’s meaning and changed the whole story. It lost a lot of the deeper philosophy of Kirby’s original story. Some say it was Kirby’s stab at spoofing the new absolute philosophy of Ayn Rand and her “perfect heroes”. Stan’s ideas would continue long after Jack’s involvement with the character. Him made an appearance over on Thor, but it turned into a typical battle royal and an unfulfilling ending. It would be a couple years before he was reincarnated as Warlock.
Stan was not a fool, he knew he couldn’t afford to alienate Kirby, so Jack’s credit were upgraded almost to an equal of Stan’s in the Fantastic Four when it switched from separate and unequal to a combined “Produced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” Several more times Jack and Steve would remind Lee and Goodman about their promise to share in the greater profits, (perhaps in response to the Wall Street Journal article) only to be shined off with further promises.
Stan Lee has been quoted far too many times not to believe that there is a thread of truth to it. “It’s a little trick I learned; instead of paying people money, I gave them a little credit line in the books. This went on for a couple years before they got wise.”
For his part, Steve Ditko had finally had enough; the quiet, philosophical bachelor made a choice, and after 39 consecutive issues of Spider-Man, two annuals, and dozens for Dr. Strange, he gave notice. After Woody, this was strike two. Stan Lee to his everlasting shame still denies knowing why Steve Ditko left, while Steve made it very clear in a telephone interview with comic journalist Bob Beerbohm in 1969 that he was tired of being put off by both Goodman and Lee over the subject of residuals.
“Steve Ditko told me and my friend Steve Johnson that he and Jack had been promised royalties if their new creations took off. They were told by Martin Goodman (picture a fellow putting his arm around the back of your shoulder, voice sounding very sincere) “Don’t worry about a thing if the books sell well, we’ll take care of you.”
That ‘we’ included his relative, Stanley Lieber, long time editor of Goodman’s comic book division. Just a division, mind you. Goodman was also a major publisher of a lot of those “men’s adventures” magazines popular to a lot of vets back in the 50s and 60s plus yet other areas to make a buck in.
When the first merchandising on Spider-Man, by this time already one of the main titles, came along, Steve started making noise about the extra dough. So did Jack. They were told that the company was still not making enough money, to wait. Promised contracts never seemed to be completed to be signed, carefully verbal in nature.
By early 1966, Steve walked, he said to us, and he urged Jack to come along.”
One might think with two strikes, Stan would become more cautious about losing the artists, but I think Stan began believing his own press. He thought that it was he that had imbued the Marvel Universe and the artists were simply his tools, despite leaning more and more on them. Increasingly Lee’s input dwindled to where there were some stories with not even a basic plot by Lee. On a Sgt. Fury story Stan told Dick that he had no ideas for the next issue. Dick drew a blank also and it was Dick’s wife Lindy who came up with the plot. When Dick suggested a onetime credit for Lindy, Stan summarily dismissed it. Another time, on a story without any Lee input, Ayers was adamant about receiving the writing credit. Lee was just as adamant that he would not receive the writer credit, but instead, Lee would give Ayers credit as letterer and Ayers would get that additional pay; Lee would still get the writer’s credit and pay. Lee laughed this off and claimed that Ayers was getting an ego without realizing his own, this is a screaming indictment of how the work place relationship at Marvel had devolved; and then to try to buy him off with a couple gold pieces. A victim of their own success; once again Kirby and the other artists were reminded just how low their place was in the Corporate scheme. The ones doing the creative work received the least reward.
One of the newcomers was John Romita, an artist who had made his name with DC’s romance books. He started working over Kirby layouts on Daredevil. He was given the Spider-Man series after Steve Ditko left, and changed that book from a dark, serious series into a lighter, more reader friendly series and the fans responded. One day, he took Jack to the Playboy Club for lunch. There John told Jack of a long ago tale. During the Crestwood days, Joe and Jack would advertise for new artists to work for them; mostly as inkers and “in-between artists” who could take some of Kirby’s layouts and expand them to fit a story. Young John Romita responded to one of the ads, and was given a penciled page to ink as a test. John took the page home and inked it; looking at the page he was disappointed, so he did it again and again. Never satisfied he threw it away and never returned to Simon and Kirby. “I told him I chickened out. I should have brought back the inked page and let him (Kirby) tear it apart. I would have have learned more, but I was embarrassed at the work I did”. I said to him “Gee Jack, we could have been working all those years,” and he said “That’s a shame John, I could have turned you into a dynamo.” “If I had worked with Jack, if I had the guts to go back, I would have been a different artist, a much more confident and freewheeling artist” Romita lamented.
To help replace the lost work from Steve Ditko leaving, Stan hired an old pro from Atlas days. John Buscema had come to comics in the mid-fifties while Atlas still had an in-house bullpen. With the changeover to all freelancers, and the Atlas Implosion, John had abandoned comics in a huff. Stan could now offer John full employment and stability. But John’s skills had rusted up from non-use. His first work was stiff and uninspiring, John worried if he could cut it. From an interview in Jack Kirby Collector;
JB: “I would not have been able to survive in comics if not for Jack Kirby. When Stan called me back in 1966, I had one hell of a time trying to get back in the groove. You can do illustration, you can do layouts, but that doesn’t mean you can do comics. It’s a whole different ball game. Stan gave me a book to do; I think it was the Hulk. I did a pretty bad job – Stan thought I should study Jack’s art and books so he gave me a pile of Kirby’s comics. Well, everybody was given Jack Kirby books! (laughter) It was the first time I’d seen his work. I started working from them, and that’s what saved me.
TJKC: What did you learn from them?
JB: “The layouts, for cryin’ out loud!” I copied! Every time I needed a panel, I’d look up at one of his panels and just rearrange it. If you look at some of the early stuff I did – y’know, where Kirby had the explosions with a bunch of guys flying all over the place? I’d swipe them cold! (laughter) Stan was happy. The editors were happy, so I was happy.”
Dick Ayers also tells of a might have been story. Starting out, he would take his portfolio from publisher to publisher looking for work. Getting nowhere, his list was down to two more services. He was close to the Vin Sullivan studio so he dropped in. As fate would have it, Vin recognized the talent and immediately put Dick to work; a partnership that lasted a long time. Getting work, Dick decided to ball up his list and toss it. One last quick look and Dick realized that the next name on his list was the Simon and Kirby studios. He always wondered about the what if. Did he have what it took to work for Simon and Kirby. He did get the chance to work with Joe Simon years later when Joe resurrected the old Black Magic title, and his career was always linked to Jack when Marvel came to the fore. The comic biz was always a small world, where most talents eventually meet and connect.
Comic readers come and go; they age and move on to other pursuits; girls, jobs, cars, girls, school and the other symbols of maturation, did I mention girls! It’s been said that every five years produces a new class of comic readers, unaware of the legacy of the artform. It had been just about five years when Marvel started reprinting their original tales. They sold well as the rise of Marvel’s fandom meant that most new fans had never really seen the earliest Kirby and Ditko/Lee stories. While Goodman and Lee were happy with the results, the artists were livid. Perhaps even more odious than the lack of credit was the reprint fee controversy. The idea that the company can make unlimited new money by reusing existing art without ever reimbursing the artist was never even broached. Why should the companies continue to make new money using existing art, yet not offer the artists, new money? In the movie and TV industries, this subject had been resolved for quite a while, always in the artists favor, residuals for reruns were mandatory, but the comic industry was a dinosaur, and reprints had long been a common way of cheap revenue. Worse, the artists were in reality competing against themselves for sales off the stands.
From the AFTRA rule book:
Residuals are paid to actors when their performance is used AGAIN, or in a new way that was not intended when you originally worked. For example: * A re-run of a television show * A feature film that was released in the movie theater, but is now being released on DVD * A television Movie of the Week that is now being sold on DVD * A second use of a commercial (or a third use, or 300th use!) * A TV series that is now being used on the internet as a “Webisode” (a.k.a. “new media”) * A TV series that is sold into syndication * A network TV show that gets shown again on a cable channel
The really great news? This process goes on FOR LIFE. You will continue to get paid smaller and smaller amounts each time the film is shown, forever.
The rights won by actors had no impact on the graphic artists.
It wasn’t until the 1990’s that some artists won the right for residuals, and even then, not for all occasions. It certainly wasn’t back-dated for the original 1960’s books. DC paid some small residuals for merchandise to Jack in the 1980’s, but it was done as a gift, not a right.
Dick Ayers was so devastated by the constant reprints of his work that he began sending Marvel a bill for each reprinted story-which Marvel ignored! Once Dick confronted production Manager John Verpoorten about the increase in reprints and John made it clear. “the old stories sell as good as the new!” Dick retorted, “I should be paid for each reprinted page! How am I to support my family with such a low income while Marvel profits reprinting and selling my reprinted art- and don’t share that profit with me?!?” Dick Ayers quit working for Marvel, and was later blacklisted for suing for those same reprint fees–he lost.
The company laughs while the artists seethe – New cover-same story by Kirby – Lots of Kirby for 25 cents
Of all the artists, it was Kirby who was most affected by the reprints since he had contributed so much of those early stories, but Jack was stoic and just kept working in the dungeon-as he called his basement studio. And the work was the best ever done for comics-by far. The FF hit a pinnacle of unequaled creativity that covered about 20 issues where every issue brought forth new characters and concepts that would resonate for years. Stan was more astute. “Jack is a storyteller in pictures. After a while, I only had to give him a couple of words on what I thought the plot would be and he would do the whole thing. He was so inventive, He kept getting new ideas, and whenever he’d get one he’d put it in the next story. And I’d say “Jack, save that for the next issue or the one after that. It’s too much.” Instead of new books, Kirby kept introducing new heroes in the Fantastic Four. The Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, the first black hero, the Black Panther, and Him-soon to be Warlock, as well as new villains such as Blastaar, Galactus, the Frightful Four, Klaw-the master of sound, and Quasimodo- the villainous machine made man. Perhaps the pinnacle was reached in what became known as the Galactus trilogy (FF#48-50) which introduced a new villain- Galactus- a godlike being to whom the Earth held no more significance than a McDonald’s Happy Meal. His herald, (the Silver Surfer) who searched for just those planets that might satiate his master, is transformed by the loving humanity of Alicia Masters and turns against his master to try to intercede in the Earth’s behalf. Even the power of the Surfer is nothing to Galactus and he continues his work to drain the world of all life essence until the Human Torch returns from an intergalactic search with a weapon of such magnitude that even Galactus relented, but not before banishing his traitorous herald to remain imprisoned on the Earth.
Enter Norrin Radd – Silver Surfer gets the prize
No series could ever come close to matching this outburst of creativity found in the FF -except possibly Kirby’s Thor. During this same period Kirby introduced Hercules, Tana Nile, Ulik, Ego-the living planet, the High Evolutionary, and in perhaps the grandest story arc ever done, the Ragnarok epic with Mangog. Not to be outdone, Captain America would reunite with the Red Skull, and meet Them, Batroc-the leaper, Modok, the Sleepers, and Zemo. It was such a burst of creation that Stan Lee became lost for words in his feeble previews of coming attractions blurbs. “I’ll create a concept just to keep from getting bored.” Kirby noted when asked in an interview with The Comics Journal about this ramped up cosmicology.
TCJ: …back in ‘65’and ’66, you started to get on this mythology-fantasy kick. Who was responsible for that –you or Stan?
KIRBY: “Both of us, in a way. I researched it and gave my version of it, and Stan gave his version of it. Stan humanized it in a way where, for instance, I might be concerned about Thor’s relationship to the other Gods, I might bring up a Ulik or I might bring up something out of the wild blue yonder, like the Oracle-that great big thing which nobody knew anything about. I try to fathom it myself. And Stan would come back down to Earth and find Thor’s relationship with Earth people. In other words, we go up and down the spectrum always trying to find something new in it.” In another interview Kirby explained: I’ve been a student of science fiction for a long long time, and I can tell you that I’m well versed in science fact and science fiction. I’m 71 years old and so I’ve seen all this new conception. I used to read the first science fiction books, and I began to learn about the universe myself and take it seriously. I know the names of the stars. I know how near or far the heavenly bodies are from our own planet. I know our own place in the universe. I can feel the vastness of it inside myself. I began to realize with each passing fact what a wonderful and awesome place the universe is, and that helped me in comics because I WAS LOOKING FOR THE AWESOME. I found it in Thor. I found it in Galactus.”
As glorious as the concepts, the execution was even better. To many, Kirby’s art in the mid-sixties has never been rivaled. That bulkiness that Jack began adding to his characters now reached an apex. His characters looked like they could leave footprints in solid concrete.
Yet they maintained a sense of movement and fluidity. It was unparalleled in its power, grace, and grandeur. Kirby created universes, and constructs of such dynamics and imagination that they are still the measure which all else is compared. Stan Lee in perhaps his greatest accomplishment paired Kirby up with his finest corps of inkers. The Fantastic Four got Joe Sinnott, the most precise, clean and expressive inker to ever grace a Kirby pencil, with all deference to the great Wally Wood. Vince Colleta, the most maligned inker to ever work on Kirby added an illustrative texture and archaic feel to the mythical milieu of Asgard that is still unrivaled. And Syd Shores, and Frank Giacoia both gave Captain America a grit and sheen combined with a Golden Age solidity and weight that worked well with Kirby’s more Earth bound warrior. In a three year period, Kirby equaled the grace and power of Alex Raymond’s space opera, and the mythical epicness of Hal Fosters Prince Valiant, and the exotic locales and thrill-a-minute adventures of Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates.
Jack found the awesome and showed it to us
Though it’s doubtful that Kirby had consciously mimicked his childhood idols, it is a might coincidental. Kirby became the artist and inspiration that the next generation of artists would emulate. When asked about his changing styles, Kirby replied. “You’re goddamn right, and it might change again if I live that long.” “I won’t live or die by what any man made up. I live or die by what I see, that’s all.” “I feel I see a lot because I analyze a lot. I see the same things you do but maybe I get more time to analyze it whereas you might not. So I sit and think and it’s as simple as that.” “I feel I’m God because these things are living or moving to my concepts. Good or bad, that’s how they come out. I can even punish them by erasing them but I’m not that mad yet. I like to make them as perfect as I can, and I feel now that’s what God is doing with us.”
The reward for all this hard work was obvious. Sometime in 1966-67 Marvel took over as the sales leader among comic publishers. While DC was mired in a decade long slump, Marvel’s sales had improved on a consistent 45% angle. This improvement started just as Jack Kirby had entered the picture. There really isn’t any other way to look at it except as starting when Jack Kirby took over. The rise started in the late 1950’s, before Stan and Jack collaborated on the super-heroes. Marvel as a company hadn’t made any changes that could account for the rise except for hiring Jack Kirby. The most noticeable increase started in the monster books; it really took off with the coming of the super heroes. As Marvel grew, the new artists continued this trend. The one constant was Kirby’s other worldly imagination, which kept the books fresh and new.
Jim Steranko talked about Jack and a memorable meeting with Jack while Jim was working for Joe Simon at Harvey.
“The more we talked, the deeper my understanding became of the man and his work. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Kirby efforts clearly transcend writing, illustrating and storytelling. The enduring quality of his comics and career are testimony to the multi-faceted approach apparent for half a century.
From Blue Bolt to the Forever People, Kirby functions as architect, satirist, and philosopher, as a pop media visionary with extraordinary range and depth.” ….”Like the great artists of every age, Kirby and his work has continued to change and mature, appropriately evolving through each decade. He has changed too. By example, he has proven the imagination knows no bounds by taking us to countless fantastic worlds that would not exist had Kirby not created them. He has spent a lifetime turning two-dimensional comic book clichés into surprisingly fresh situations with wit, intelligence and style…..The shockwave of Kirby’s creations will continue to resonate as long as heroes resist oppression and champion the quest for freedom. Perhaps more than any other 20th century artist, Kirby is responsible for a modern mythology that has touched millions of readers on every continent. No artist has ever done as much, as quickly and as masterfully as the man who has justifiably been christened by his peers. “The King.”
In the late 60s, a young artist wanna-be from Detroit had contacted Kirby for a local fanzine. Greg Theakston would later graduate high school and move to New York. Once there he would join Neal Adams little band of crazies. Yet he would always maintain contact with Jack. Jack seemed to enjoy this contact with the younger generation and he shared many confidences with the young man. Greg Theakston would take it upon himself to showcase Kirby as the primal genius of the comic book industry. His reproductions of Jack’s earliest work and his personal reminiscences helped form Jack’s legacy. It’s hard to understand Kirby’s place without Greg’s publishing. Jack rewarded his loyalty by giving him inking jobs, and a chance to paint Kirby’s covers.
Kirby’s pencils were entering a new phase of expressionism. Musculature that defied human description, Machines and buildings that defied belief, but they worked. In fact, JimSteranko asked Kirby about his machines and said; “Jack confirmed my suspicion that every weapon, vehicle and device in his stories was designed to work, not merely appear workable.” Most of the Kirby iconography that defines the greatness of Jack Kirby can be first found in this later period. Kirby krackel, Kirby dots, Kirby squiggles, Kirby architecture, Kirbytech as well as the most expressive forced perspective ever. Kirby’s costume design was at its most expressive. Kirby began experimenting with collages-using them as backgrounds for other dimensions and worlds without limits. His women were a perfect mixture of grace and strength, unrivaled in their power, beauty and femininity.
His multiple Universes dazzled the young minds and ignited the imaginations of all the readers. Just as Kirby’s lithe, loosey-goosey characters and Art Deco backgrounds came to symbolize Golden Age comics, his new blockier, more powerful figures with full psychedelic vistas and photo montage came to represent the Marvel Age of comics. This stuff wasn’t found in nature—it emanated from Kirby’s brain.
Strength, looseness, and a pyschedelic dot pattern background – all symbolism and surrealism
Jim Steranko inked Kirby on a few issues of Strange Tales. He recalls, “Unlike many pencilers, Kirby put everything on the page, yet never even short-cutting black areas with the common practice of indicating them with an ‘X.’ He felt a page was incomplete until a certain dramatic and visual balance was achieved. His pages rippled with integrity, crackled with the kind of power that was best expressed by his pencil line as it touched the board—much like a jazz musician blowing an improvised passage. Capturing the magic of that pencil line in ink is almost an impossibility, especially by another artist with a different sensibility,”
Mike Esposito had inked over everybody, and was considered a top talent. Yet he had his problems. He told an interviewer;
“Kirby was dynamic. When I inked Kirby, Stan would bawl me out and say ‘What are you doing? You’re drawing a real nose, it’s not supposed to be a real nose! They’re two little holes.’
“I was taking things too literally, and was trying to draw a real nose, but that was not Kirby.
“Frank Giacoia came by one day and said ‘Mike, just paint by number.’
“Frank inked all that stuff. He said ‘Don’t try to create your own look, just follow the lines, and it will all fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle.’ He was right. You don’t draw on top of Jack Kirby, because it won’t work.”
John Romita, the consummate pro, who became art director explains at a Kirby panel about inking Kirby’s new expressionistic style.
“Jack Kirby did a formularized, direct, explicit pencil technique. …a lot of pencilers are so vague and do three lines and give you (the inker) a choice of one. Some of them do greys on their pencils and you have to decide how to make them black and white. Jack Kirby never left you that problem. Every single thing was there, including Kirby’s Cosmic Crap.
Even the colorist understood majesty
I remember all the cosmic effects he made. I used to spend days trying to explain that to some of my trainees at Marvel, how to do that and what the pattern was. Because they thought if they did a lot of big, black blobs, they were going to get Kirby’s cosmic effect. And they couldn’t understand. I said, There’s a pattern there. Just look for it. There’s a pattern he used. He’s not creating black spots. He’s creating white areas by putting black where there’s no light” Nobody understood it. Jack did. He created it. He made it work and he made it graphic, and he could produce it in a split-second, without any mess and clogging. It was wonderful stuff. But what Herb (Trimpe) is passing up is that only a few guys, like he and Frank Giacoia, and Mike Royer could understand that explicit direct black and white style. And the only reason I put Vince Colletta down was because he used to put a lot of lines where there didn’t need to be lines. There didn’t need to be a lot of hatch (cross-hatching) All he needed to do was the blacks that Jack inscribed. It was a diagram, it was a natural gold mine, and a lot of guys overlooked it.”
But it wasn’t just the changes that Stan Lee begged Jack to do, plus the layouts and corrections for others. Stan also had a habit of having his studio art director John Romita make silly changes that Stan thought would help the storytelling. The problem was more that Stan couldn’t always follow Kirby’s plotlines.
John grudgingly remembers;
“ Stan wasn’t down on anyone’s artwork. He never changed anybody’s artwork because he disagreed with the artwork; it was the storyline that he changed. The artwork had to be changed because he was changing the storyline. I changed a lot of Jack Kirby, but not because the artwork was wrong. Stan wanted a new expression, or he wanted to change the position of a character, because he was always changing a storyline. What Jack would send in was always invariably different than what Stan had asked for. Stan would write another story, and I would have to do changes to make it work. People think that because I was art director, I made that judgment, but I never did. I wouldn’t have changed Jack Kirby’s artwork if my life depended on it! But when Stan wanted a change in story, I had to change the artwork. I changed Colan, I changed Barry Smith — did you ever see those embarrassing Barry Smith covers with my faces on them?”
Romita, in an interview was asked about when he became the official art director, his answer is very enlightening.
Romita replied; “It was never official. It was a handshake. It was so unofficial that Stan used to be paid as art director. I never got a penny for being art director.
That’s not a very good arrangement at all, replied the interviewer.
“I used to say that Stan would give titles instead of salary increases. He would call a person an assistant editor, but not give them a raise. He used to give us nicknames instead of raises. [Laughter.] That’s why I got so many nicknames.” (Stan would say the same thing)
So Stan was getting the editor’s salary, the writer’s salary and the art director’s salary, while having others do at least two of the jobs.
Arlen Schumer noted art designer, critic and pop culture observer notes;
Kirby was probably inspired by the first quasar photographs published in scientific journals around 1965 to create his patented energy field of patterned black dots that has become affectionately dubbed “Kirby Krackle.” One of the first major displays of Kirby Krackle emanated from Galactus’ hands in the full-page panel found in FF # 50 (May 1966). But it was seven months later, in FF #57 (Dec. ’66), that Kirby codified all of his graphic power and energy ideas (including his trademark background “burst” lines) in the four-panel sequence of Dr. Doom transferring the Silver Surfer’s “power cosmic” to himself, climaxing with the staggering full-page portrayal of a triumphant Doom, aswirl in Kirby Krackle, astride the fallen Surfer: the most dramatic definition, in a single image, of victory and defeat in the history of comics – if not art itself.
Kirby’s machinery – a.k.a. “Kirbytech” – was never drawn to look functional; the moebius strip-like masses of mazed metalwork that were a mainstay of his oeuvre were simply stylized designwork, as much a recognizable architectural motif as Alexander Calder’s mobiles or Louise Nevelson’s abstract, sculptural boxes. The endpapers of the Jack Kirby sketchbook (Jack Kirby’s Heroes and Villains, Pure Imagination, 1987) are perhaps the purest examples of the graphic design of Kirbytech, unfettered by figures and word balloons.
Decorating Kirbytech – and everything else, whether it be flesh or fabric – was the omnipresent Kirby squiggle, a vertical stroke interrupted by, well, a squiggle. It could add shine to machinery or sinew to musculature; it was Kirby’s singular, graphic signature. The oscilloscope-like arrow shapes that Kirby frequently employed as well some say were influenced by the Art Deco designs prevalent in Kirby’s environment during his formative years, while others maintain they had an almost Aztec-like design quality – though how the son of European immigrants raised on the Lower East Side of New York City without a college education could’ve come up with those remains a mystery.
Character made for squiggles
Another recurring graphic device of Kirby’s that bore no relation to reality were his shadows and spotting of blacks: artfully placed circular, curved and arched shapes that served to balance the black and white compositions of each panel and page more than they delineated accurate castings of light. Kirby always bent and exaggerated reality, like his square fingers and blocky knees, to suit his wishes as an artist; yet when he wanted to portray the verisimilitude of real life – like in his autobiographical “Street Code” story (Argosy, 1980), or any of his Earth-interludes in Thor – the results were quietly breathtaking, the converse of his cosmic panoramas.
As a graphic storyteller, Kirby never really bothered with panel shapes and page designs that broke out of the traditional box format; he believed more in the proscenium-arch theory of comic book storytelling, in which what is designed in the interior of each panel is more important than the exterior shape of the panel itself. That stays constant – like a stage’s proscenium arch – so that the reader focuses more on what is happening within; the story itself. At a time when firebrands like Jim Steranko and Neal Adams (and Will Eisner before them) were radically redesigning panels and pages in the late Sixties to make them more “cinematic,” Kirby was content to let his drawing do the talking in standard four-, five- and six-panel pages, interspersed with random full-pagers and double-page spreads, which were often spectacular.
The abstract photo collages that Kirby started to do in Fantastic Four around 1964 (his first collage cover was FF #33, Dec. ’64) were startling to his readers, for they were unlike anything any artist had attempted in mainstream superhero comics before; astute comic historians could recall photo collages used by Eisner in his Spirit stories and Harvey Kurtzman in the pages of Mad years prior, but they were nothing like Kirby’s. His were freewheeling, frenetic photo-fests that often subverted average objects, culled from consumer magazines as popular as Life Magazine, or as edgy as Playboy, into imagery as otherworldly as his own drawings. “Collages were another way of finding new avenues of entertainment,” Kirby said in an old interview. “I felt that magazine reproduction could handle the change. It added an extra dimension to comics. I wanted to see if it could materialize, and it did. I loved doing collages – I made a lot of good ones.” Kirby’s Krazy Kollages led to the development of groundbreaking original designs like the alternative dimension the Negative Zone in the FF and Ego, the Living Planet in Thor
These are among the graphic designs of Jack Kirby that rank him as high on the totem of 20th Century American Graphic Design as his hyperbolic drawing ranks him in the Comic Book Hall of Fame. To consider the latter without the former is to overlook some of the more uniquely artistic attributes that do indeed make Kirby “King.”
In the late ‘60s, fandom had begun to organize. What was once myriad points of light became a focused laser. From local comic clubs, Comic Cons sprang up where fans could meet, and buy and trade old books, and talk to industry pros about their favorite characters. Kirby found his audience. Jack reveled in the attention and popularity of his creations, but something sinister caught his eye. During the Golden Age it was customary for the publishers to backstock the old original art. After it was printed it was thrown on a shelf. Joe Simon tells about how during rainstorms the ceilings would sometimes leak, and they would throw original art on the puddle to sop up the water. Flo Steinberg says that they would store it and occasionally she would grab an armful of art and old scripts and toss them out. Stan frequently gave pages to subscribers and advertisers as gifts. Yet with the growth of the conventions, prized art was even more valuable than the books. Jack noticed on many dealer tables pages of his original art-selling for good money. Fans would bring over pages for him to sign, and Kirby questioned where they came from. Dealers would quickly hide pages when Kirby approached. Many stories began circulating about huge caches being secreted out of Marvel’s offices and offered on the street like drugs to junkies. Other staffers finding stacks by the back door that they “liberated” from destruction. Kirby asked Stan for his artwork back only to be refused blaming the need and habits of the business as the reasons. Jim Steranko also noticed, and when he asked Stan, he was also refused. Jim was not one to take no for an answer. Jim confronted Stan Lee and told him that he was going to the tax board and tell them about this valuable stash of artwork that had no taxes paid. Stan quickly told Jim that he could pick up his artwork after the process was done, but Marvel would not help in any way. Kirby persisted to no end. Jack’s art leaked out in droves. Kirby learned that some of the inkers had received a share of the art, but not Kirby himself. The camel’s back started bending.
Copyright law allowed for the creator of a property to regain control after 28 years with a couple exceptions. The claimant must have been one of the authors, and he must not have been an employee or designated as a “work for hire” freelancer. Joe Simon, who had kept busy doing Sick Magazine and the occasional Harvey editing job, decided that he wanted to reclaim Captain America. It was Joe’s claim that he had created Cap in 1940 while freelancing for Timely. For Timely’s part, they claimed that Simon’s participation was done as an editor and covered by the “work for hire” clauses so Joe was prohibited from making a claim. In 1966, hoping to catch onto the planned Captain America film, Joe sued Marvel and in 1967, the case was moved to the Federal Courts who rule on copyright matters. Kirby could not join Joe in this claim as he was a salaried employee at the time Cap was created. According to Joe, Martin Goodman called Jack in and told him that Joe was suing for Cap and was trying to cut Kirby out of the loop. So Martin promised Kirby that if he helped out Marvel that Goodman would reward Kirby. Joe gives the impression that Kirby stabbed him in the back, but there is no record of Kirby signing anything, or giving a deposition of any kind where Kirby undermines anything claimed by Simon. In fact, there is no record of Kirby doing anything on this case. Amazingly, a simple phone call would have ended any dispute. The case was resolved when Marvel and Simon came to an out of court agreement where Joe would receive an undisclosed sum of money if Simon would end his claim and agree that his work at Timely was “for hire”. Kirby might have received some sort of payment for a promise never to join in a future claim for copyrights on Captain America.
On Broadway in 1967, a small play appeared, written by Bruce Jay Friedman—a writer who worked for Martin Goodman a long time—mostly in his sweat magazine division. The play is called Scuba Duba a witty examination of racial tension and obsession. The titular character was played by Cleavon Little, later renowned for his work with Mel Brooks. This play received rave reviews, and featured quite possibly the first nude scene. Mr. Friedman also wrote the play Steambath and has a long connection to Broadway. The play did not last long, but long enough for Life Magazine to do a write-up and review which featured a photo that by itself meant nothing, but 4 years later would be reinterpreted by Jack Kirby into a continuing character in his most personal work. It showed Cleavon Little as an obsessed scuba attired black guy bounding in his ridiculous flippers with a large mask perched on his head.
Brian Epstein died in Aug. 1967. Unknown to most, this new need to run their own business tore the Beatles apart; unofficially, Paul became the guiding hand behind the Beatles. He organized studio times, and album creating. John went along for the ride, but he says that the times at the studio were no longer group happenings, but rather members of the band playing back-up to individual members’ songs. Togetherness was a thing of the past. In the name of the Beatles, the members were really four solo acts pressed into one album. John was the first to publish a solo product, with the usually diffident Ringo Starr following suit. Paul and his new wife, Linda bought a small four channel recorder and started doodling and creating a private collection of songs. Yet despite trying to stay together, members started moving in and out as egos took over. George left one recording in a huff, and there was actually talk of Eric Clapton being called in to replace him.
Ned Pines had created comic books in the Golden Age. His line became known by the unwieldy name of Standard/Better/Nedor. He had gotten into the burgeoning paperback industry when he opened Popular Library paperbacks. These were some of the schlockiest titles going; pulp magazines without interior spot illustrations.
They loved them some headlights and racy blurbs
In early 1968, Perfect Film and Chemical Corp. bought them outright. Perfect Film was a securities corporation known for buying troubled companies and selling them for quick profits. Perfect Film was talked into lending Curtis Publishing Corp. 5 million dollars.
Curtis was a long time publishing and distributing company known best for its leading account the venerable Saturday Evening Post. Curtis had been hit with a devastating 3 million dollar defamation suit from a recent article about baseball and fixing games. In exchange for the loan, Martin Ackerman, president of Perfect would become head honcho at Curtis. The court case ended up in the Supreme Court which decided that Saturday Evening Post was liable for the 3 million dollar. Sales on Saturday Evening Post were falling precipitously, and combined with the lawsuit, Curtis was unable to repay the loan, and Perfect Film took control of the company. This made Perfect Film a distributor without product to distribute.
1947-07-26: First US article on bikini. – 1964 Beatles on top
What was needed was a profitable publisher with a bad distribution set-up. Perhaps due to the Wall Street Journal article, Goodman’s predicament was well known. He was selling tons of books, but still limited by the distributor to amount of titles he could produce. In a marriage made in heaven, Perfect Film bought Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management Company. Suddenly, Curtis, which had a huge network due to Saturday Evening Post’s worldwide market, had truckloads of material –between Marvel’s comics and Popular Library’s paperbacks. It’s unknown why, but the transition from IND to Curtis would take a year or so, but Marvel ignored DC’s title limitation and immediately instituted a huge expansion. DC probably allowed it in order to maximize money while they were still the distributor.
1968 explosion-big premieres
When Marvel ended the distribution contract with DC they began an expansion. All the super-heroes that appeared in shared books soon got their own book, plus new series like the Silver Surfer, Captain Savage, and Captain Marvel arrived. A slew of reprints titles also filled the stands, offering new readers a glimpse of the earliest Marvel days.
Marvel’s success continued unabated, and the number of monthly publications grew. Stan’s merry little crew couldn’t handle all the new content and Stan was forced to expand his bullpen. Such was the competition for competent artists that DC and Marvel had entered into a gentleman’s agreement not to rob each others stable.
Outside veterans like George Tuska, John Romita, and Gene Colan had snuck in often using aliases to hide their freelancing, as well as former fanzine writer Roy Thomas to assist Stan on the writing end.
Stan’s soap opera style struggled to keep up with Kirby’s grandeur, at times the dialogue was in obvious disagreement with what Kirby drew. It’s almost like Lee sometimes didn’t understand the story that Jack was telling. The magical symbiosis of the earlier Marvel period was beginning to fray as the visions no longer meshed. Stan was having trouble fitting in his touches of humanity among the cosmic epicness in Kirby’s vistas. More and more Stan interfered with Kirby’s flow and demanded pages be redrawn. It appears that Lee was trying to regain his editorial command at Kirby’s expense. Stan had Jack redraw his planned origin of Galactus and insert it into a Thor story. Jack’s plans for Him were dashed when Lee took the character away from him, and muddied the story. And worse, Kirby’s vision for the Silver Surfer was derailed when Lee decided to give the character his own book, with a Lee written origin and had John Buscema draw it. Captain America was taken from Kirby and given to the young upstart Jim Steranko. Jack lost his connection to his children. This loss of control for his characters became Kirby’s main point of contention. Jack could handle the lack of credit, but he couldn’t handle the meddling in his stories. “I created an army of characters, and now my connection with them is lost” Jack called Greg Theakston when Thor was taken from him and said that this was the last straw. With Roz’s urging Jack made a decision to limit the amount of original characters and concepts and force Stan to come up with the plots. “Why give Marvel more Silver Surfers!” she said. This change of method can easily be seen when you compare the burst of imagination before and the lack of same during the late1960’s work. No new characters and the plots simply repeat themselves with the same overworked villains. The books seemed bereft of life and heart. Interesting to see this happen just when Stan Lee was made to plot and write the books. What didn’t degrade was Kirby’s art. He simply couldn’t cheat on the boards. It was strong until the very end. Kirby’s imagination wasn’t quieted; his new ideas were being set aside for another day. Round this time, the comic companies decided to save money by having the artists draw on a smaller art board. This affected the amount of detail that the artist could put into each panel. Kirby also noticed problems with his vision, he was losing acumen in one eye. He struggled to maintain his usual control but the smaller page made him draw in a somewhat more cartoony style, and his work looked simpler. In order to compensate he just used fewer panels per page. He lost a lot of the physical detail and his physiology became blockier and geometric. His muscularity became slashes and squiggles rather than rendered shapes and textured surfaces. His new abstraction helped maintain the flow of action that the lost detail took away.
Kirby loved the expanded stories of Captain America
Marvel’s good fortune was soon overcrowded by the senseless assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on a Memphis Hotel balcony. Cities erupted once more. The new owner Perfect Film liked what it saw, and was told that Stan Lee was the brains and muscle behind the growth of the company and the artists were simple illustrators of no import. Sometime in the mid 60’s Kirby had signed a personal services contract that bound him to Marvel. That contract was coming up for renewal, yet no new contract was forthcoming. The timing coincided with Martin Goodman negotiating the sale of the company to a new owner in 1968. The value of his company had never been higher-thanks to Stan, Steve and Jack. Jack was hoping for a benefit package and perhaps some action on the long promised royalties. Yet in the changeover period, Kirby’s demands were shunted aside as inconsequential. They paid no nevermind to Jack Kirby’s demands.
Starting in books cover dated August 1969; Marvel had finally started out of DC’s distribution yoke. Jack got the chance to expand the Cap stories and really unleash the action. With expanded two page spreads. The double splashes restored the loss details seen in the single pages. Cap never looked so good, heroic, and unbeatable. Kirby now had three full series. The art was astounding, but the stories had become repetitively turgid. Perhaps Stan Lee had once again stretched himself too far. Having to supply the stories himself, Stan lost any semblance of originality and innovation. Then disaster struck; perhaps coincidentally, for the first time in 8 years, sales of the individual books started falling; almost 15-20% percent. They had ridden an unparalleled stretch of growth; never seen in the comic industry. Remarkably, despite adding in a dozen or so new books, like Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel, Captain Savage, the expanded super hero books, some new fantasy titles, and a plethora of reprints, total sales fell for the first times this decade. I have tried to look for outside reasons for this decline, but could find none. With the new distributor, Marvel books were easier to find than ever, a price raise did occur, but not until a year or so later and I see no affect with the additional .03 raise. One would think that with a dozen new books, these would cover any dip in the other books, but the fall was immediate and across the board. The only change I can figure was the change from Jack Kirby plots to Stan Lee’s plotting had stretched the writer too far, and damaged the brand. That no one ever praises the stories from 1968-1970 is a telling factor of just how low the product had fallen. That late period run of Fantastic Four is considered a dry period of the series with little originality and no drawing power for new readers. Thor had not offered anything exciting, getting by on the likes of the Thermal Man, Kronin Krask, Crypto-Man, or mundane returns of Ulik, or the Wrecker. 1969-70 Marvel had become that “vast wasteland” the same bankrupt literary desert that DC had reached a decade earlier. The decline wasn’t killing yet; Marvel’s freefall actually wouldn’t start until after Jack Kirby left the company. During Jack’s tenure, Marvel’s sales had steadily risen from less than 3 million units a month to a staggering 9 million units, only to see it fall back to 6 million despite Marvel’s attempt at flooding the stands again. Kirby’s foundation was broken and withering. FF lost 60+ thousand copies per month, Cap 50 thousand, and Thor; another staggering 60 thousand issues. During this time Marvel responded by for the first time in recent memory, they cancelled series; Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Captain Savage, Nick Fury all bit the dust, X-Men went into reprint mode. The art, by stalwarts like Kirby, Kane, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko remained stellar, but the stories were mindless, rudderless, pap. They lacked the clarity, excitement, and vision that Kirby had supplied the early stories. Stan Lee’s voice was the same, but what was missing was Kirby’s imagination and vision. The bird stopped soaring.
Note the crash starting in 1968 just as Stan was forced to provide stories—new owners– this chart doesn’t show individual books—even worse since this coincided with more titles. Note Marvel’s rise coincided with Kirby’s tenure.
Jack and Joe Sinnott get it right – Jack and Joe finally meet in 1972
As the young Lisa grew, she began to suffer from asthma, just as her mother once did. It was suggested that a move to a warmer drier climate might be beneficial. There may have been other reasons for Kirby to consider moving to California. For instance, it has been reported that Kirby wanted to get closer to Hollywood. Either way, after Martin Goodman sold Marvel to Perfect Film and Chemical Corp. Kirby felt even more estranged as the new owners had no clue as to who Kirby was and what he contributed. So in January 1969, the Kirbys packed up and moved to the West Coast.
Shortly after the move, Thor was scheduled to be given to another artist. John Buscema had been molded to take over the strip. Stan had some other ideas for Jack. Perhaps the new Amazing Adventures that would contain the oft promised new adventures of the Inhumans. Perhaps to help some of the flagging titles, Kirby is given stories for odd titles. Kirby called historian Greg Theakston screaming that this was the last straw. But it wasn’t; finally the new suits at Marvel sent Kirby a new contract. Kirby was flabbergasted, the new contract actually was worse than the previous agreement. No raise, no mention of benefits, and a new layer of legal sanctions against any copyright claims that Kirby might make at some later period. It seemed that Joe Simon’s claim for Captain America had stirred up a hornets’ nest. Supposedly Marvel also worked out deals with Bill Everett and Carl Burgos.
The country was burning! A culture war that began soon after the assassination of JFK became a perfect storm of schism eruptions; Young vs. old, drugs vs. alcohol, hawks vs. doves, black vs. white, feminist marches, even gay rights demands. Fueled by horrible TV news films from Viet Nam, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. the young generation rose up and began burning down a country that had lost its mojo. The cultural centers had become the colleges and Universities, and the rise of the drug culture and anti-war movements led to sit-ins and shut downs that paralyzed and polarized the centers of higher learning.
As a mirror of society it was not surprising that comic books would reflect this cultural upheaval, especially with Stan’s New York liberalism. Captain America was no longer a right wing poster boy; he began to question. Even Spider-Man, had lost his Ditko tight-assed nature; and adopted Romita’s fashionably longer hair and swinging with-it style. With Marvel Comics having such a huge presence on these campuses, it was not surprising that Marvel Comics would come thru this turmoil relatively unscathed. I think it’s the man against society nature of super heroes. While not overtly anti-establishment, the stories had a counter culture ambience that the college age kids felt; their stories always seemed anti-establishment in some measure. Marvel also embraced the multi-cultural make-up of the country, more than its competition. A small group of readers found specific anti-establishment fervor in a budding offshoot called underground comics that focused on the sexual, drug, and anti-war counter culture of the young. This sub genre never made any real splash sales wise, but it did help to ease up the restrictive nature of the comic code and allowed both DC and Marvel to expand their stories into more controversial and “relevant” areas such as racial bigotry and drug abuse.
Mid ‘60’s on, the success at Marvel was staggering, with sales rising exponentially, but this rising tide didn’t lift all boats. The rest of the comic industry continued in a slow funk. Dell Comics was the most successful comic company during the 1950’s. Originally a pulp publisher founded by George Delacourt, it was an early venturer into comic books when it published Popular Comics in 1936. It quickly became a major player when in 1938 it partnered with Western Publishing. Another subsidiary was K.K. Publications, named after Kay Kamen, manager of character merchandising at Walt Disney Studios from 1933-1949. Western Publishing also produced children’s books and family related entertainment products as Golden Books Family.
The corporate structure was unique, Dell was the financing division and Western Publication thru several divisions was the editorial sector – in charge of the actual production of the books. Thus we would find comic stories with several different imprints on them, plus Big Little Books and slick magazines with Whitman or KK Pub. in the indicia.
Dell – The 40 ton bull in the shop
Dell Comics was best known for its licensed material, most notably the animated characters from Walt Disney Productions, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Walter Lantz Studio, along with many movie and television properties such as the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Howdy Doody, Yogi Bear and other Hanna-Barbera characters; most notably under the Four Color banner. They were considered safe for all readers, and they were so clean, the company never even felt threatened enough to combine with the other publishers under the Comics Code Authority. They had several titles that sold well over a million copies a month for a long time. No barber shop could be found without a stack of Donald Duck, Rocky and Bullwinkle, or Zorro comics for reading.
In 1962, the two divisions had a dispute over money, and the decision was to divide into two separate companies. The end of Four Color in 1962 coincided with the end of the partnership with Western, which took most of its licensed properties and its original material and created its own imprint, Gold Key Comics.
Dell Comics continued for another 11 years continuing with licensed television and motion picture adaptations (including Mission: Impossible, Ben Casey, Burke’s Law, Doctor Kildare) and a few generally poorly received original titles. In response to the burgeoning super hero craze, Dell additionally attempted to do several superhero titles, including, Nukla, Fab 4, and Brain Boy, and a critically panned trio of titles based on the Universal Pictures monsters Frankenstein, Dracula and Werewolf that recast the characters as superheroes. Gold Key had better luck with their super heroes as titles like Dr Solar, Man of the Atom, Magnus, Robot Fighter, and Turok, Son of Stone, produced in California, lasted for quite a while with exquisite art by the likes of Dan Spiegel, and Russ Manning. K.K. Publications appears to have become defunct during the mid/late 1960s. Unfortunately, their fiscal problems meant they could no longer compete nationally.
Though both divisions would continue well into the Seventies, the divided companies had lost their luster and found distribution problems that robbed them of their market position. The young child focus of their books were increasingly aimed at a smaller market share as the general age of comic readers increased from 7-10 to 12-16. The growth of Marvel eroded the natural audience for the kiddie books. The large college age audience found little in Dell’s repertoire for them.
The other colossus of the comic industry DC had a different problem, it was simply getting old, and sailing by on its Golden Age laurels. Though most historians credit DC with initiating the Silver Age, with the re-introduction of Flash in Showcase #4, the fact is that the new books were good, but not great sellers. Flash, Green Lantern and the Atom never had sales that threatened Superman or Batman’s position as the top sellers. Justice League of America may have come closest, but by the early 60’s all were losing readers. The whole DC line was leaking oil. Batman was scheduled for cancellation a couple times. By the 60’s, the romance genre was moribund and on its last legs. Its romance division was near the bottom until DC bought Young Romance and Young Love from Prize Publications. But these were no longer the Simon and Kirby Young Love and Romance. These two titles were absorbed into DC’s lackluster romance line and produced by the same stable of tired writers and artists. Their humor titles, such as Jerry Lewis, and Bob Hope were also struggling. The sixties brought a new audience not readily familiar or in tune with the older slapstick hokey comedians. DC was stuck in the ’50s.
DC’s corporate structure had been intact for almost 20 years, and the lack of new blood was showing. All the editors were in a holding pattern busily redoing the plots and stories from the last decade. Batman and Superman repeatedly fighting the silliest aliens ever created. The characters never changed. A story from 1963 could just as easily have been printed in 1955, with no one the wiser. The art was always top notch with pros like Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Carmine Infantino and Curt Swan producing solid but uninspiring art. There was a sense of a company set in aspic, with no reaction to new times and new sensibilities. The Sixties was about new and different, and if you gave people the same ole same ole, you would be on the losing end. It took DC almost 5 years before they took the upstart Marvel seriously. They would laugh at editorial meetings about Marvel’s “ugly art” and figure it would pass. But Stan and Jack had done the improbable; they had fed into the new sensibilities and created a groundswell of appeal from the new readers that transcended the old masters. Stan’s innocent condescension of the Distinguished Competiton had become outright derision by the buyers. A new phrase had entered the lexicon of comics- the Marvel Zombie- a buyer of only Marvel Comics. It wasn’t only DC, when Harvey tried to match up with Marvel’s adventure line, and Tower, and Charlton, they all met the same fate, good reviews but a stubborn refusal of the buyers to budge from Marvel.
It wasn’t even for lack of trying, DC did make some weak attempts at emulating Marvel’s hero with feet of clay style when they created Metal Men, Doom Patrol, Metamorpho and some others. All fine books just not game breakers, and by this time DC needed something dramatic.
New companies like Tower, and that old guard Harvey tried their hands at new style Universally connected hero worlds, to good reviews, but lack luster sales. Even bringing in Joe Simon was no cure for Harvey. His new titles never seemed to bridge the gulf from the Golden Age simplicity to Silver Age sensibilities. Tower started with a splash featuring Wally Wood’s artwork. It expanded too soon, and the other hands couldn’t live up to Wally’s promise, plus the new company had money problems.
Wally Wood—never disappoints – Jim Steranko—the genius arises
Finally, DC made a change. It started in 1964 when the editor of Batman, Julius Schwartz teamed with artist Carmine Infantino to update the Caped Crusader. Infantino got rid of the sillier aspects that had crept into the series and gave the “New Look” Batman and Robin a lither and muscular physique, detective-oriented story direction and sleeker draftsmanship that proved a hit combination. The upshot was that a Hollywood producer saw a new Batman comic and had the idea to produce a Batman TV series. The series, starring Adam West as Batman was such a phenomenon that sales of Batman comics became astronomical, with figures approaching Golden Age sales that hadn’t been seen since the early 1940’s. DC had its game breaker, and they once again rode the crest for the next two years. Batman’s sales didn’t cross over to the other titles.
This wasn’t lost on Stan Lee and Martin Goodman; in late 1966 Irwin Donenfeld gave Carmine the job of designing covers for the entire DC line. Stan Lee approached Infantino with a $22,000 offer to move to Marvel. Jack Liebowitz explained that DC would not match the offer, but could promote Infantino to the position of art director. Initially reluctant, Infantino accepted and decided to stay with DC. Later, when DC was sold to Kinney National Company, Infantino was promoted to editorial director. For once DC had an artist in a position of power instead of rejected pulp writers. Carmine’s first move was promoting artists to editorial positions. He hired Dick Giordano away from Charlton Comics, and made artists Joe Orlando, Joe Kubert and Mike Sekowsky, even Vince Colletta editors.
Next, he actively rewarded new talents when Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil were added to the roster. Of all the noteworthy moves that Infantino made, this might have been the most important. The comic industry had been getting by with professionals who first started in the 1930’s. So while there had been several new audiences, the companies were run just like the 1940’s. These men were at an age where they were generations separated from their audience and this audience wanted new and different treatments of their heroes. Marvel’s bullpen featured mostly younger second generation artists like Don Heck, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers and Larry Leiber, anchored by the rock of Kirby.
Comics needed young blood, and Carmine’s hiring of Neal Adams was their first taste. Neal’s impact was explosive with a natural yet dramatic feeling of emotional intensity. His figures were the opposite of Kirby’s with a strong, but realistic figural structure highlighted by dramatic asymetric layouts and a Wally Woodlike dramatic use of lighting and staging. There was no missing this new approach– so distant from the cartoony Curt Swan, or Sheldon Moldoff pencils seen so long on Superman and Batman. Unfortunately, while Adam’s work was so beloved by the fans and critics, the casual buyers never warmed up to it and he would never have a long and successful run on a character. But Carmine stuck with Neal and his style soon became the in-house DC style, adorning most every cover. Great buzz, but no real improvement with sales.
Stan Lee was not to be outdone; a young artist had debuted over at Harvey Publications when Joe Simon started a new line of adventure titles in 1966. As a teenager, this young artist had sought out Jack Kirby. On a visit to the Kirby household, he and Jack talked comic art for hours with a Kirby made bologna sandwich breaking up the stay. Jim Steranko’s art was equal part pop art intricacy, and Jack Kirby dynamics. It was destined that when the Harvey titles were canceled, he would gravitate over to Marvel with his impressive portfolio in hand.
Kirby and Steranko – Barry Smith ala Kirby dots and squiggles.
With Steranko’s facility with hi-tech gadgetry, Stan placed him with Jack Kirby to work together on Nick Fury- Agent of SHIELD. Jim finished over Kirby layouts for a few issues before taking over complete art duties. Steranko reminisced; “As a fan, I had admired, studied, and collected Kirby’s comics and knew him several years before we worked together on the SHIELD series. That collaboration was one of the high points of my career, not only marking my debut at Marvel, but one with Kirby as my mentor. A dream was fulfilled when I inked the cover of Strange Tales #151 and finished his breakdowns for the first three issues before soloing on the series.” The art was breathtaking in its intensity and dramatics. The combination of Kirby figures and Steranko’s hi-technology and surrealistic op-art backgrounds was staggering. No one–not even Neal Adams so quickly became a fan favorite as did Jim Steranko. Jim was soon assigned to Captain America where he produced three highly regarded issues. When Jim couldn’t make deadline, Kirby stepped in and over a weekend drew a fill-in issue of Cap.
Unfortunately, Jim Steranko was a comet, his time at Marvel was short due in some measure to Stan Lee’s interference, and his own time consuming standards that didn’t jibe well in a book-a-month industry. It’s been said that Jack could do 4-5 pages in one day, while Steranko could do one page every 4-5 days. Ultimately, Steranko explained that his feelings for his own work led to a breaking point with Lee. On a Nick Fury project,(ed’s note; it was actually a horror story, not a Nick Fury) Steranko pleaded with Lee not to alter his work despite his authority to do so.
“Don’t touch this work, I’ve put too much time in this work, if you tinker with it you’ll screw it up,” Steranko paraphrased on his encounter with Lee. “It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him angry, it’s the only time I’ve known him to be angry,” said Steranko, explaining that Lee effectively stood his ground telling him he couldn’t tell his editor how to do his job and firing him on the spot. “Stan really had every right to take that attitude. I was really wrong. I shouldn’t have taken that attitude, but I didn’t want him to change that story,” said Steranko. “Stan was the editor, and I was just some geek who walked in out of the night. So at this late date, Stan, forgive me.”
Next up was an English émigré whose work impressed Stan so much that he immediately gave him fill in work. Barry Smith was initially a Kirby clone, impressing with extreme figural posturing and a touch of pop art sensibilities. Smith didn’t gravitate towards Marvel, he attacked it head on. In an interview Barry was asked: Did you seek out Marvel because of Jack’s work? Smith responded: “Yes. Marvel was my only interest because of Kirby’s work”. With early work on X-Men, Nick Fury, and Avengers, the young Brit worked tirelessly at his office on a park bench. Unfortunately his visa problems caught up and he had to go back to Great Britain, but not before leaving a mark on the industry. Others like Dell alumni Herb Trimpe helped out on westerns, Bernie Wrightson and Mike Kaluta would be added.
Barry Windsor-Smith said, talking about his Kirby influence: “Each panel and page was so filled with energy and wonder that, as with the Beatles’ work of the same time, I knew I was honored to be alive and aware at these epochs of such undeniable genius.” “The extraordinary fluency of the figure drawings took my breath away; I’d never seen anything like it, ever,” he said. “I have always had a bright star by which to navigate my dream of trying to be one one-hundredth of the galaxy that was Jack Kirby.”
Smith says getting the work was easy.
“There was no pitching required, really—Stan loved my stuff because although it was pretty amateur and klutzy, it had the essence of Jack Kirby about it, and that was what sold Marvel Comics in those days. Stan wanted every penciler in his employ to draw like Jack—not necessarily copy him, I must point out, because that has been misconstrued for too long—but, rather, to adapt from Kirby’s dynamism and dramatic staging. Many pencilers pretty much had their own styles wrecked by Stan’s insistence in this matter. It was horrid watching Don Heck—a perfectly adept illustrator of everyday things and occurrences—struggle to create a dynamism in his work that simply was not a part of his natural capabilities. Herb Trimpe, John Romita Sr. and others were all twisted away from their own natural proclivities to adapt the Kirby style—disastrously affecting their own artistic vision or needs. I doubt whether Stan pushed Steve Ditko to be more like Kirby because, after all, Ditko’s style was already dramatic in its staging and pacing.”
Once DC had been sold to Kinney, the gentleman’s agreement as to raiding the artist stable ended, and Stan soon convinced Gil Kane, and Neal Adams to switch teams. Marvel was now the work place of choice.
Barry Smith tells one of the great anecdotes about working close quarters at Marvels studios.
“The offices were no bigger than an average NYC apartment. Areas were sectioned off—the Bullpen itself could hold four people sort-of comfortably, with liberal deodorant use. Stan had the only office with a door. The atmosphere was quite merry most of the time. Marie (Severin) was a constant source of laughs with her wonderful cartoons of all of us. I remember one afternoon in the late summer of ’68, the radio was playing the Beatles latest song and as it came into the long, chanting coda one by one each person began singing along—Herb Trimpe, John Romita, Morrie Kuromoto, Tony Mortarello, Marie and a few others—all singing at the top of their lungs, Naa—NaNa NaNaNaNaaa—Hey Ju-u-ude… It was wonderful, gave me chills of pleasure.”
From the moment he took over DC in 1967, Infantino set out to launch one new book after another. He abandoned DC’s traditional method of giving a new feature two to four issues of Showcase (or Brave and the Bold) and waiting for sales figures, instead giving features only one or two Showcase appearance and immediately spinning them off into their own title. But most didn’t last beyond seven issues. They included Beware the Creeper and The Hawk and Dove (both by Steve Ditko), Bat Lash (an innovative Western series), Brother Power the Geek, Prez, and some romance titles (by Joe Simon).
Jim Simon, (Joe’s son) in a personal communication explained.
“Fans should keep in mind that Prez, and Power reflected the times—the hippie and youth movement. It’s hard to relate to today but at the time he (Joe) was having a ball with the concepts.—I think these could have been better if Dad had worked with a different artist. Jerry Grandenetti was a neighbor and Dad gave him work but I never liked Jerry’s comic book work even though he did interesting “shots”. I also wrote some of these stories and that could also have been a problem! In fairness to Jerry Grandenetti, he was a wonderful war and horror artist, but his style was old school and worked against the hipper nature of the new comics. I have always felt that it might have been easier to reach a younger audience if the books weren’t written by a 50+ ad man.
Unknown to both Joe and Jim Simon, there was also a cancer killing his books from the inside. Mort Weisinger, Simon and Kirby’s old tormentor during their early DC days was not happy with Joe Simon coming back, and he made a personal plea to Donenfeld to cancel Prez, which he claimed as anti-American and unpatriotic.
Carmine was under the gun, nothing he threw against the wall was sticking. The new owners were not pleased. In late 1968, a fortuitous event happened when Jack Schiff, the veteran editor at DC retired. The old guard was giving way. With his retirement, a large obstacle for Jack Kirby disappeared. Jack had been persona non grata at DC as long as Schiff was still at DC due to the Sky Masters fiasco.
According to Carmine in his biography he and Kirby had remained good friends from when he had worked at S&K.
“Jack Kirby and I were old friends. We had done that strip that never sold and, in the ’50s, I worked for him and Joe Simon. While Jack was at Marvel, we would talk from time to time. In ’69, I was flying back and forth to California overseeing Hanna-Barbera’s work on DC’s SUPER-FRIENDS TV show. I called and said, ‘Jack, I’m coming out to California for Passover. Do you want to get together and have a drink?’ “He said, ‘Absolutely.’
Jack recalled Joe Simon’s old axiom “when you make a proposal to an editor, have a tangible project, not an ephemeral idea. Don’t let them evolve the project-or worse, steal it. Infantino joined the Kirby’s for Seder.
“And when we talked, he showed me these three projects. They were FOREVER PEOPLE, NEW GODS, and MISTER MIRACLE. “I said, ‘They’re sensational. When is Marvel putting them out?” “He said, ‘They’re my creations and I don’t want to do them at Marvel. Would you make me an offer?’ “I said, ‘Absolutely.’ He wanted a three-year contract. I said, No problem, you got it. So I made him an offer, which was more than what he got over there, and then I gave him a contract. It was that simple. He was very unhappy at Marvel and wanted to come over to DC. Marvel wouldn’t pay him for writing and I would, so he made more money with us.”
Infantino left the Kirby household without a firm ok by Jack.
Jack would often say that for the best affect, his sci-fi concepts should be placed 5-10 years in the future- far enough to amaze but not so far as to be unimaginable. In July, 1969, Kirby’s and Kennedy’s dream became a reality. Neil Armstrong, in one small jump made humanity a Cosmic traveler. Only 6 years after Jack first had the Fantastic Four step on the moon. Now Neil didn’t run into any Commie super apes, or find a large solitary observer of the human race, but that’s not an indictment of Kirby. It just shows that God didn’t have as well developed an imagination as Jack Kirby.
After a short period of looking, the Kirby family settled on a mountaintop in Thousand Oaks, just a short trip Northwest of L.A. On clears days, Kirby could see the Pacific Ocean. He had traveled about as far from New York’s Lower East Side as humanly possible.
While in California, Jack had been assigned to assist a small company called Marvelmania International in producing some Marvel related collectibles. Marvelmania was started by a gentleman named Don Wallace, who had convinced Marvel that he could take over their marketing concerns. Don was kind of shifty and working on a shoestring. Getting paid was iffy, but Kirby provided a whole slew of drawings for the company. Jack drew and inked eight gorgeous posters for a fine art type printing. Marvel decided that eight was too much Kirby and they canceled four of them-without payment. Then they had Herb Trimpe redraw the Hulk poster using Kirby’s backgrounds and his figure as the template. Again, Kirby was not paid, plus it was Herb Trimpe’s name on the poster though Kirby had effectively laid out the figure and provided the backgrounds.
While working at Marvelmania Int. Jack met several young men. Steve Sherman and Mark Evanier were long time comic fans who had organized the L.A. Comic Club and hoped to find a job in comics. The only major comic company located on the West Coast was Western–a division of Gold Key Comics. When the boys learned that Kirby had moved west, they soon tracked him down and became constant house guests. While still at Marvelmania Int. Evanier sold some comic scripts to Western. This was the first in a long ongoing career. Evanier was also a friend of Shel Dorf, a comic enthusiast who wanted to create a major West Coast Comic convention. In 1970, at a San Diego Hotel the inaugural San Diego Comic convention was held; the headliners were Forest Ackerman, a legendary sci-fi publisher, and Jack Kirby, the King of Comics. Another new acquaintance was Mike Royer, an artist from Oregon who had moved to California to get into the animation industry. Mike was also doing some work for Western Publication, mostly inking over Russ Manning, when he met Jack Kirby who asked him to ink the classic self-portrait for a Marvelmania magazine.
Mike recalled with great clarity;
“One night in the late ‘60s, about 8:00 in the evening, the phone’s ringing in the kitchen, I pick it up and the voice says “Hello, Mike Royer? This is Jack Kirby. Alex Toth says you’re a good inker.” And Jack says there’s a bunch of stuff he’s doing for Marvelmania and he wanted to know if I’d be interested in inking them.
Royer would always marvel since he had not worked for Al Toth, and had no idea Toth even knew who he was.
Mike Royer’s first inking
Jack and Steve – The new team – Mark
Interesting, Royer was faithful, but no squiggles
In late 1969 Jack received a phone call, a college producer, Sheldon Feldner asked Jack if he would prepare some production drawings for a play based on Julius Caesar put on by the Santa Cruz Theatre Company. Jack, who could never say no, agreed and did almost 2 dozen drawings, one of which was used as the cover for the playbill.
The director, Sheldon Feldner, a Marvel fan, wanted a comic artist to design the costumes. He contacted Stan in New York about his proposal and Stan suggested Kirby since he had recently moved out there. “An assistant and I drove down and stayed at Jack’s overnight. We watched Spartacus on TV and talked about Roman armor. But mostly, we listened to Jack talk about Julius Ceasar.” After Jack watched a rehearsal Mr. Sheldon asked him if he (Jack) wanted to play Ceasar? He laughed and said “not to worry- we couldn’t afford him.” Jack explained the production was by college kids and Jack felt he owed them.
This is Jack’s little help
While at Marvelmania, Mark Evanier was finding getting paid tougher and tougher; he noticed bills being paid for with Kirby original art. He realized it was going under. He contacted Jack and explained that his artwork was being given away, and arranged for Jack to come and pick up his work. Jack and Neal drove up and absconded with all the original art they could find, but many pages sent over from New York were missing. With the company failing, Don Wallace started scapegoating, picking Mark Evanier as the likely culprit; he even went so far as calling Evanier’s home and threatening him with legal measures. The young assistant was despondent and feared for his livelihood. Jack noticed how upset Mark was and when Mark explained what was going on Kirby responded angrily. Mark remembers: “Jack immediately went to the phone, called my harasser, and though it was Saturday, caught him at his office. All I heard Kirby say was ”If you ever bother Mark again, I’ll come down and punch your goddam face in.” Nothing more was ever heard from Don Wallace.
Back at Marvel in January 1970, they continued to badger him about the unacceptable contract, until Jack considered their terms as a take it or leave it proposition. Stan was playing games with some new titles requiring reworking by Kirby plus the new Silver Surfer title was in trouble and Stan turned to Jack to rework the series. Stan’s new vision for the new Silver Surfer as an avenging angel was even more at odds with Kirby’s and Jack was angry. Stan in an attempt to calm down Jack had actually allowed him to write–with full credit–a few stories at the end, but on one of these Stan still couldn’t resist the urge to change Kirby’s ending. Martin Goodman, perhaps as a ploy to force Jack to sign the new contract, said that Kirby was making too much money and threatened to cut his pay. This disrespect had to stop and in March 1970, Kirby called up Carmine Infantino and said that it’s a go, and then he called Stan and tendered his resignation.
Stan Lee recalling Jack’s leaving says he was shocked and caught unaware, just as he was by Ditko’s departure. Roy Thomas says that everyone knew there were problems, but even Roy was shocked and dismayed when it actually happened. The art staff was stunned. John Romita, the art director didn’t think Marvel could handle the loss of Kirby. Rumor has it that Marie Severin tacked a cigar stub up on a bulletin board with the words “I quit” written underneath, and that’s how most of the Marvel staff learned of it. The king had abdicated the crown, and moved to a new country. One decade ended, and another began. Strike three.
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
SPIDER-MAN: THE CASE FOR KIRBY
In Feb. or March of 1962, Stan Lee pulled Steve Ditko aside, he explained that the next issue of Amazing Fantasy (#15) would feature a new super-hero. “He would be called Spider-Man. Jack would do the penciling and I was to ink the character” “Stan said Spider-Man would be a teenager with a magic ring which would transform him into an adult hero-Spider-man. I said it sounded like the Fly, which Joe Simon had done for Archie Publications.” Steve recalled.
“Stan called Jack about it but I don’t know what was discussed. I never talked to Jack about Spider-Man, so I don’t know what his ideas concerning the characters actually were.” Later at some point I was given the job of drawing Spider-Man. Why, exactly? Stan and Jack also have to clear that up.”
Stan Lee says that Spider-Man came to him one night when he saw a spider walking on a wall, and the name Spider-Man derived from a favorite pulp fiction character from his youth- The Spider.
Not surprisingly, Kirby has a different tale to tell. In an interview with Will Eisner, Kirby described the genesis thusly: “It was the last thing Joe and I discussed. We had a strip called The Silver Spider. I believe I said this could become a thing called Spiderman, see, a super-hero character. So the idea was already there when I talked to Stan. He would also explain that at the time he was very busy so after a few introductory pages they turned the character over to the planned inker to pencil and ink. “Stan Lee gave it to Steve Ditko because I was doing everything else; until Johnny Romita came in to take up some slack. There were very few people at Marvel; Artie Simek did all the lettering and production.” When Ditko took over, he and Lee added in their own take on the character. Of the three, only Kirby provided any specifics as to where the inspiration came from.
There was heavy blowback and discussion about Jack’s claims though they weren’t new. As early as 1968 Jack claimed design aspects of Spider-Man as being taken from his earlier work. His portfolio Kirby Unleashed, (1970) had this to say in the biography by Mark Evanier. “Spider-Mans beginnings, however date back to when Simon and Kirby had their own publishing company and were devising new characters for it….they had a projected character named Spiderman…recalling the name, Kirby suggested it to Marvel..” Even in a Marvel in-house article from FOOM #11, (1975) the writer Alex Boyd says; “It’s not generally known that it was Jack Kirby who designed Spider-Man’s costume.” I have read, many strange attempts at twisting those words to refute what was written, but they can’t change the date and now make the claim that Kirby’s claims were made during a period of great anger at Marvel. It was always Kirby’s claim that Jack presented the idea of Spider-Man to Stan Lee. I think the clearest evidence came from an article from Comics Scene magazine#2 (March 1982) by Howard Zimmerman. Jack says; “I did a mess of things. The only book I didn’t work on was Spider-Man which Steve Ditko did. But Spider-Man was my creation.”
Several different versions, at odds with each other, how do we find out the truth? The first thing is to remember the routine that Lee and Kirby had established. Jack was responsible for the characters and plot elements. And Lee the personalities and human attributes. Is there any evidence that Spider-Man should be any different? No, in fact it makes sense with Ditko’s memories of Jack Kirby being involved before he was, and as the preferred penciller.
Who you gonna call?
It was also Jack’s method to refer back to previous recent creations for inspiration. He had done this for the Rawhide Kid, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and Thor, Ant-Man and Sgt. Fury. There is no reason to expect anything different with Spider-Man. The best clue may be Ditko’s observation that the original concept was identical to Archie’s Fly- created by Simon and Kirby just a couple years earlier- though Ditko had not remembered Kirby’s participation. And what do we know about the Fly? That the Fly evolved from a Kirby drawn character called Spiderman, which evolved from Joe Simon’s Silver Spider.
What’s the diff? Fly Spider Fly?
But it’s not very scientific to just pick Ditko’s reminiscence and accept it at face value, or Stan’s or Jack’s. If we can’t rely on first-person testimony, what can we do? The Confessor, in Kurt Busiek’s Astro City said it best, “Look at the facts, look at the patterns, and look for what doesn’t fit. Base your deductions on that.”
It has been said, “an artist is someone who pounds the same nail over and over again.” All artists, graphic or literary, have patterns. They repeat aspects, concepts, a style of punctuation, a brush stroke, lines of musculature, anything that separates their style from the hundreds of others. When trying to identify an unknown artist, one can compare the piece in question with other contemporaneous works to match up these patterns. This method has been used to research everything from Shakespeare’s writings to the works of the Great Art Masters. I have spent a lot of time in this text showing the predecessors to Jack’s creations. This pattern is so strong that it can be found from his earliest work all the way to his final works. Jack built his legacy by continually connecting dots yet keeping it fresh.
Can this be used on comic books? Yes, it can, and has. Martin O’Hearn is a noted comic’s historian who specializes in the identification of unaccredited comic writers. He matches up subject, syntax, punctuation, themes and other identifiable patterns, and has had remarkable success in matching writers to their non-credited stories.
Likewise, Dr. Michael Vassallo, in his never-ending quest to index all Atlas/Timely Publications, spent endless hours comparing drawing and inking styles to identify unaccredited works of comic art. His goal of identifying the unlisted inker on Fantastic Four #1 & 2 has led him to amass a veritable mountain of inking examples to compare to the actual comic art. What he didn’t do is blindly accept personal recollections or corporate identifications at face value. If he did, Dick Ayers or Artie Simek would be incorrectly credited with this work. His quest and methods led to the acceptance of George Klein as that inker.
Rather than focusing on un-provable statements- by men with obvious agendas- made long after the creation of Spider-Man, let’s examine their actual concurrent works to see if we can find a pattern of creation that matched up with the concepts, characters, and plot elements found in Amazing Fantasy #15, plus any physical evidence, and testimony from witnesses independent of the three men. I will mention quotes, but not as evidence as quotes are too self-serving. But if a quote provides a specific bit of info, I will try to track that data down to see if relevant, such as Ditko’s quote mentioning the Fly.
Jack Kirby was an amazing man with an endless imagination, but he was also a man who used and reused his favorites themes. I have already mentioned the stories dealing with radio telescopes and looking for aliens, and how this idea bridged several different companies. We also know that Jack did at least five stories using huge rock heads sunk in the Easter Island coast. These stories also crossed at least four different companies, and he did at least 7 stories of robots or other mindless machines getting intelligence—usually by radiation affecting their cores. Alien children running amok causing havoc to the human population crossed many companies and genres. And this was before Quasimodo, Monsteroso or Machine Man. Jack constantly repeated his sources, though he never told the same story twice, he always fit those themes into stories with different takes and details.
For example; One of Jack’s many repeated premises is the Hollywood movie production where the heroes get invited in and once in find the props are not fake, they are deadly traps meant to kill them by their enemies. A version of this shows up even before Jack teamed up with Joe Simon in Wilton of the West, Jack and Joe used it in a wonderful Captain America story, and when they left for DC they used it in a Boy Commandos, and a Newsboy Legion story. An interesting version showed up in Fighting American. Interesting because it was planned for an unpublished issue, and never saw print until 1965, 4 years after Jack used the exact same sequence in a Fantastic Four story. He would reuse it in different versions on Thor, and a later Captain America. This same premise also shows up in an early Spider-Man. No one can deny that it was a Jack Kirby pattern that he used time and again.
So the best way to begin is to break Spider-Man down to its basic elements and look for matches. The basic concept of Spider-Man is simple, a hero, with the inherent physical powers of a spider- he can crawl up walls, and across ceilings, he has the proportional strength and agility of an arachnid. He has an extra sense that warns him of danger. He manufactures a web shooter that can be used for catching prey, and used as a means of mobility. This was described by Stan Lee when first talking to Steve Ditko.
I could find no earlier character from either Lee or Ditko that had any resemblance to Spider-Man, none. As to Jack Kirby, it didn’t take long to track down a pattern match for the physical aspects of Spider-Man, the surprising factor is just how similar the two characters are. The very character that Steve Ditko claims he recognized when told of the conception. Spider-Man was exactly the same as The Fly.
The very last costumed super-hero book that Kirby produced, prior to Marvel, featured an insect hero able to climb walls and ceilings; had super strength, the agility of a bug, and, amazingly, an extra sense that warned him of danger. Steve Ditko has said that all of this was in place before he got involved. If so, then what was changed from Kirby’s Spider-Man? It seems all the changes were made to Peter Parker, so a full half of the premise remained the same. Ditko made no changes to Spider-Man.
Marvel even noticed a resemblance – The most sensational new villain
In The Adventures of the Fly, (Archie Publications 1959,) Simon and Kirby introduced The Fly, a hero with the exact same insect derived powers that show up in Spidey. In fact, the only physical difference is that the Fly not surprisingly, can fly. The most interesting aspect for me is the match-up of a “sixth sense” to warn of danger. While the other powers (wall climbing, etc.) might be considered generic to any insect hero, (though this isn’t backed up by actual evidence) this warning sense, or insect sensitivity as Archie Publications called it is, as far as I know, something totally unique and beyond the norm of the natural attributes of insects..
The Fly – Spidey
With Spider-Man, his Spidey Sense has two different aspects, the first is a direct warning of an unknown attack, as seen when the Vulture swoops down from behind and his Spidey Sense makes him swerve out of harms way, or when The Invisible Girl tried to sneak up on him. The writers have even described it the same way
Spidey – Mirror images – The Fly
The second aspect is a more vague sense of unease that something bad is about to happen. Like when Spider-Man enters the Tinkerer’s workshop. Ditko shows this extra sense with wavy rays emanating from Spidey’s head. So does the Fly. This was not a onetime aspect, as the Fly stories used it many times.
Coincidentally, the Fly’s extra sense has the exact two aspects as does Spider-Man. It warns him of people sneaking up behind him, such as a punk with a gun and also as a vague vibration bringing a sense of dread alerting the Fly to trouble at the Orphanage. When this is shown in the Fly, he is shown with rays emanating from his head. The addition of this unnatural extra sense and presentation showing up in both creations is just too coincidental. Perhaps the silliest explanation was when a reader, in attempting to show a difference, tried to explain the Fly’s ability as super-hearing. The description in the panel belies this, plus in other uses it was called an “insect sensibility”
It should be noted that the addition of the extra sense that warns of impending danger, first seen in the Fly, seems to have been an original Kirby item, since it was not present in either the Silver Spider proposal, or mentioned in the Jacobson memo.
It’s been said that the Devil’s in the details, and it’s these repeated small details that in my opinion, make the strongest case for Kirby being the concept man.
Does the physical similarity between The Fly and Spider-Man correspond and bolster any specific claims made by the three men? Yes.
It backs up Ditko’s memory, plus it backs up Kirby’s claim that it started with Joe Simon’s Silver Spider which we know evolved into the Fly.
Joe Simon’s logo
Let’s review the step by step process that led from the Silver Spider to Spider-Man. When Archie Publications asked Joe Simon to produce some books for them in 1959, Joe called in Jack Kirby to help out. Joe suggested that they rework his earlier Silver Spider proposal into a character called Spiderman. He handed over a file containing the initial Silver Spider proposal to Jack. The file also contained a rejected working logo. and probably the editorial memos, by Harvey Publications, rejecting the initial proposal. After drawing the first story, the name was changed to the Fly, with changes made to the Kirby drawn story.
According to Joe, in The Comic Book Makers (Crestwood Publications, 1990) when Kirby asked him about specific powers for The Fly, Joe told him “Hey, let him walk up buildings, and let him fly if he wants to, It’s a free country. Take it home and pencil it in your immortal style.” Kirby did just this, and the result was The Fly.
Why is the Fly swinging on a web?
Again, Joe saying The Fly evolved out of the Silver Spider proposal doesn’t make it true. It is when we compare the two stories that we see that aspects of the Fly’s origin gimmick is consistent with the Silver Spider’s. (and Ditko’s later observation) In both stories, the young protagonist (both named Tommy Troy) is a beleaguered orphan who gains his powers via a mystical ring that transforms him into an adult super hero. Yet the super hero character is different. Where the Silver Spider has no apparent powers except enhanced strength, and a great leaping ability, The Spiderman/Fly has been granted very specific powers; inherent insect abilities, (wall clinging, exceptional agility, a sixth sense and a stinger gun- none of which was in the initial Silver Spider proposal. It is this character evolution, supplied by Jack Kirby, that is the borrowed ingredients that later show up in Marvel’s Spider-Man.
So there is a pattern match that is consistent with Spider-Man and Kirby’s The Fly, and a paper trail that lends credence to Jack Kirby’s claims concerning the initial Silver Spider connection, and Ditko’s claim about the resemblance with the Fly. As an aside, Simon had rejected a working title “Spiderman” for his Silver Spider project, and showed a logo to Kirby, leaving little doubt as to which of the three people involved with Spider-Man would have been the one to supply that name.
Yet nowhere in either the Fly, or the Silver Spider work up can be found a template for the concept of a web being used as a means of mobility, or as a way of capturing prey. Which brings me to a part of this history that has been overlooked, and in this area lies what I believe to be the only existing contemporaneous written evidence that shows undeniably where the concepts came from, and who brought the basic concept of Spider-Man to Marvel. This is what I consider to be the smoking gun, much like catching the crooks with the blueprint to the bank, and the vault combination.
After Joe Simon submitted his proposal for the Silver Spider to Harvey Publications for acceptance, Leon Harvey handed it over to a young editor by the name of Sid Jacobson for critiquing and approval. In two memos from 1954, addressed to Leon, Sid made it apparent that he was not happy with the proposal. “Strictly old hat” he says, stating that the concept is too generic, with nothing special to set it apart. In the second memo, Sid Jacobson takes the extra step of suggesting just what changes could be done to make this concept more interesting. These memos were in Joe Simon’s, Silver Spider file, they were unearthed, and originally published in Greg Theakston’s Pure Images #1 (Pure Imagination,1990)
Here is the pertinent section of memorandum #2.
EDITORIAL MEMORANDUM #2
TO: LEON HARVEY February 23, 1954 FROM: SID JACOBSON RE: SILVER SPIDER
Conclusions on character: Physical appearance- The Silver Spider should be thought of as a human spider. All conclusions on his appearance should stem from the attributes of the spider. My first thought of the appearance of a human spider is a tall thin wiry person with long legs and arms. He should have a long bony face, being more sinister then handsome. The face of the Submariner comes to mind.
Powers: The powers of the human spider should pretty much correspond to the power of a spider. He therefore wouldn’t have the power of flight (author’s note: something hinted at in Simon’s proposal) but could accomplish great acrobatical tricks, an almost flight, by use of silken ropes that would enable him to swing ala Tarzan, or a Batman. The silken threads that the spider would use might come from a special liquid, from some part of his costume that would become silken threads in much the same way as the spider insect. These threads would also be used in making of a web, which could also be used as a net. The human spider might also have a “poison” to be used as a paralyzing agent.
-end of memo-
There is no ambiguity, vagueness, or doubt; Sid Jacobson suggested that for the Silver Spider to work, it would have to become what we recognize as Spider-Man!
It appears as if Jack took some of Jacobson’s suggestion to heart when he cobbled together the character of Spiderman/Fly, for he added the detail of inherent insect attributes, and a web gun– enabling the Spiderman to travel and catch quarry– which Simon says was changed to a buzz gun when the character became the Fly. “Out went the web-pistol. The Fly now carries a buzz gun, which paralyses his foes with stinging darts. It wasn’t scientific, but who cared? It was good comics.”
Move forward three years, when Goodman decided to go the super-hero route; Kirby is asked to come up with another character, and now the parallels between the Spider-Man creation and the Jacobson memo become undeniable.
Spider-Man would have the natural instincts and powers of a spider; he could walk up walls, and ceilings. He would have the proportional strength, and agility of an arachnid. And more importantly, he could emit a silken thread that he could walk across, or use as a swing. His webbing, a synthesized liquid, which emanated from his costume, was also adaptable as a net in which to ensnare villains, all of this totally identical with the Jacobson memo. Interestingly, later, when Hollywood came a calling, they changed the web from a manufactured liquid shot from the uniform into a natural inherent physical ability. The only mention of a manufactured liquid is found in the Jacobson memo, and the comic book appearance.
Evidence, and m.o.; a series of continuing pattern matches, plus a paper trail that leads directly to only Jack Kirby. And according to Steve Ditko, the origin gimmick (magic ring, transforming into an adult) was originally taken from the Fly also. What are the odds that Stan Lee, working alone, or in collaboration with Ditko, would come up with exactly the same title, the same set of unique powers, the same origin gag, and the same weapon?
Some may imply that if all Kirby did was rework a Simon project, shouldn’t Simon get the credit. As shown, every facet of Spider-Man’s character, that matches up with The Fly, or the earlier Spiderman is an element that Kirby worked on or added–nothing was taken from Joe Simon’s Silver Spider except the original title logo, and that had been rejected by Simon. Simon, on his own, had never used the logo, or acted on Jacobson’s character suggestions. But in any history of Spider-Man’s creation, in my opinion, both Joe Simon and Sid Jacobson certainly deserve a large footnote
All pulp – no super-hero – blazing 45’s
Try as I might, I couldn’t find any prior Lee or Ditko tales that might have been a template for the character of Spider-Man. None. Lee’s oft quoted statement that he had a long fascination with the pulp hero The Spider, may be true, but there is absolutely no resemblance in origin, weapons, personality or powers between the two characters. It should be noted that Stan’s fascination with the pulp Spider never led him to create a spider figure in the Golden Age when Stan was creating so many characters.
It should be highlighted that the addition of the extra sense that warns of impending danger, first seen in the Fly, seems to have been an original Kirby item, since it was not present in either the Silver Spider proposal, or mentioned in the Jacobson memo. It should also be noted that this insect-sense was not a one-time and then forgotten use, The power was in constant use even after Simon and Kirby left the series. It was a consistent part of the characters profile.
Inset from Fly #16 cover – they can’t control their “insect powers” – Still pre-Spider-Man
Ditko, for his part has acknowledged that the original concept was similar to The Fly, yet he says it was rejected, and changed because it was too identical to the Fly. So I tried to see where they might have changed the character. Try as I might, there is nothing significantly different between the Fly and Spider-Man. Every unique power that Spidey possesses first shows up in the Fly. Why, if they recognized the similarity between the Fly and Spider-Man, didn’t Stan and Steve make some changes except for the origin gimmick?
There are some specific detail differences, however, in these similar powers: The Fly’s super strength is never explained, it’s just a given. Spider-Man’s is specifically described as the “proportional strength” of a spider–a rather unique concept, (and surprisingly never used by any other insect inspired hero, i.e. Blue Beetle, Green Hornet, Tarantula ) and specific enough for me to try to track down to see if this might be an addition attributable to Lee or Ditko. But again, the only example I could find of any one of these three men giving a character the proportional strength of an insect prior to the creation of Spider-Man is found in a Kirby story. In Black Cat Mystic #60 (Harvey Publications, 1957), in a story entitled “The Ant Extract,” a meek scientist discovers a serum that gives him the proportional strength of an ant. Because of his new power, the scientist is feared and ostracized by authorities. (sounds vaguely familiar) Another small, but novel detail, that shows the evolution of the concept, and is traceable to Jack Kirby.
The mechanical weapon as first created by Kirby has been described by Steve Ditko as a web-shooting gun, and later modified by Ditko into a wrist-mounted web shooter. Again, not taking this quote as fact, my research found that the only pattern match to a costume emanated webbing, is found in the Jacobson memo that Kirby had. The wrist shooter as designed by Ditko is a wonderful modification and a stroke of genius, but it is still just a modification–the actual idea of a mechanical web shooter, even by Ditko’s account, was Kirby’s. There is also a time when Steve wanted to have a villain replicate Spider-Man and he chose a web gun rather than a wrist shooter yet no one notices the difference.
In review: every unique physical aspect of the character we know as Spider-Man can be traced back to only one of the three men involved, Jack Kirby. Not only amazingly exact pattern matches, but also a written blueprint that only Kirby had seen. Evidence and modus operandi. If the concept of Spider-Man was all that Kirby supplied, he deserves co-creator credits, but it doesn’t end there.
The next aspect is the character of Peter Parker, and while he is Spider-Man, the role of the alter-ego is to present a sometimes opposing character to the heroes. It is this dichotomy that helps create tension and oftimes humor. It is this aspect that keeps the hero and the story grounded in some semblance of reality.
Peter’s character is portrayed as a nerdy, wallflower science whiz, taunted by his peers for his lack of athletic prowess and social skills. He is rejected by the opposite sex.
Surprising as the aspect seems Ditko-like, after comparing the recent works of the three men, I was able to find a pattern match with only one of them, Jack Kirby. And not just one outlier, but several times.
In the late ‘50s, Kirby was looking for work, his comic book work had dwindled and he thought of getting into the syndicated strips. One of the strips he proposed was titled Chip Hardy. Chip was a young college freshman on a science scholarship. A regular ‘boy wonder’ taunted the other kids. Moose Mulligan, the campus jock, teased young Chip about why he didn’t try out for football, instead of “hiding behind a mess of test tubes”. Other students followed suit and mocked the youngster, labeling all science majors as “squares”. Eventually, this taunting escalated into a physical confrontation between Moose and Hardy, with young Chip getting the better of it, mimicking exactly the character template and early relationship between Peter Parker, Flash Thompson, and the other school mates. While this strip was never published, Greg Theakston has published a few panels in the back of The Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force. (Pure Imagination, 2000).
Another amazing pattern match is to be found in Tales To Astonish #22, (Marvel Pub. Aug. 1961) in a tale titled “I Dared to Battle the Crawling Monster”, one of the many Kirby/Ayers monster stories, possibly dialogued by Larry Lieber. (unsigned by Lee) The hero is a high school student, a scrawny, dorky, bookwormish sort, laughed at by the jocks for his lack of athletic ability, and taunted by the girls. Typically, by the end of the story, it is the bookworm, not the jock who is the hero. Even the visuals of the lead character strongly resemble the Peter Parker character as shown in AF#15.
Puts the lie to Kirby couldn’t do nerdy and scrawny – another scrawny abused older teenager
In the Bruttu story from Tales of Suspense #22, the protagonist was a small beleaguered scientist, taunted about his size all through high school and college, and into his workplace. It was this taunting that drove him to mistakenly become a monster. This milksop character who overcomes his limitations had become a standard icon of Kirby’s fantasy stories.
As to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, I could not find any earlier templates for the harassed, teen-age, academic style hero. And Lee/Ditko had a several years long collaboration where one might expect this plot element to show up. None, and this, frankly surprised me. There is one aspect of Peter Parker that was consistent to Stan Lee, and that is Peter’s personality. Besides being a science geek, (complete with pocket protector) Peter is shown to be somewhat angst-ridden; doubting of his own worth and unable to fit easily into society. His uneasiness with his new- found powers is atypical of Kirby’s heroes. Kirby’s men were fighters, despite their shortcomings. This inner conflict, and sometimes, outer rage is pure Lee, it is this deeper human psychological aspect that Lee imbued into all of Marvel’s heroes. It is the difference between Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four, and Rocky Davis of the Challengers of the Unknown.
Spider-Man, the alter-ego as an orphan was a constant among Kirby creations. I swear that I can’t think of a singular Kirby hero that had parents. Even those not specifically called orphans never had parents intruding their exploits. Some have said that Uncle Ben was originally a gruff, ex-military man not happy with his milksop nephew. And that Jack would never have done that type of relationship. Yet they seem to forget that the adoptive parents of the Fly (yes, the same Fly) were very hard on the child, even to the point of beating him, and by issue #4-5 changed completely into proud and supportive parents.
The villain of AF #15 is a colorless petty crook who has assaulted Spider-Man’s guardian-his uncle. His sole purpose is to create the crisis, which forces the hero into action. This match up is also found in the Fly’s origin. The Fly’s first use of his powers is to bring to justice, a petty crook who had assaulted Tommy’s guardian. This was both characters’ sole appearance.
J. Jonah Jameson is interesting. He is the adult blustering pain in the ass that constantly harassed the hero that Kirby used all the time, from original Captain America to the Shield, and Hulk on. The role of newspaper editor is an interesting one. Jack Kirby had just recently done a fantasy story (Amazing Adventures #4 “I Am Robot X”) where a blustery newspaper man tries to use his media power to destroy the hero; coincidently his name was also a three part Waspy name with an initial; Charles J. Wentworth. Like Jonah, he uses the power of the press to gin up public anger to destroy his enemy for his own selfish reasons. It was also one of Kirby’s sentient robot stories-another oft used idea. It’s a small detail, but J. J. Jameson’s newspaper was the Daily Bugle; a name that Jack used several times during the Golden Age, he even used this title in a newspaper blurb in Fantastic Four #2. Small detail, but telling as to who provided details.
Before Spider-Man developed money trouble, the Fantastic Four had their own run in with debt. They also had an issue with very bad press and hatred by the public. These ideas didn’t start with Spider-Man. The use of a wrestler as a foe against a super-powered hero was not new. Jack had used colorful wrestlers at least five times as foils in his stories dating back to Golden Age. He also put that bit into the FF, with the Thing taking on wrestlers as a comic touch.
The radiated spider is unique, unique to Kirby that is. Just before the AF#15 story Jack drew a fantasy story that involved a common spider that mistakenly gets irradiated and mutates. Jack used radiated insects several times before Spider-Man. This makes a nice change from the original ring gimmick
As to the characters, are my findings beyond the norm at Marvel at the time? I don’t think so. That Kirby constantly evolved and morphed characters and concepts is not an astounding statement. Just look at the examples. I showed for The Thing, and the Hulk, as well as Thor and Ant Man. Jack’s whole history at Marvel is filled with his taking prior concepts and reworking them to meet current needs.
That Stan Lee would take these stock Kirby characters and give them distinct personalities, foibles, and conflicts, soap opera style melodramatic continuities, and hip dialogue is also not really in doubt. I would go so far as to say that both aspects are equally important as to why Marvels’ sales rose.
That the character of Spider-Man as originally created was a Kirby concept is irrefutable, even without the Jacobson memos the patterns are obvious, with the memos it’s undeniable. There is also strong evidence that, the templates for Peter Parker’s maligned science whiz character, and some of the supporting cast was supplied by Jack Kirby.
The coincidences needed for Stan Lee or Steve Ditko to have come up with these exact elements, absent Jack Kirby, are astronomical. If this was all that Kirby provided to Stan Lee, he would deserve credit, but there is more to creating a character: One must also come up with a story line that showcases the new character, and it is here that the coincidences become positively mind boggling.
The plot of Amazing Fantasy #15 is simple, yet unique: An orphaned teenage boy receives super-powers during a scientific experiment. After gaining his powers, a loved one is killed due to his inaction. This remorse leads him to vow to never let it happen again, thus becoming a hero. Again, after cross checking stories by these three men, it became obvious that in structure and theme, the basic plot for Spidey’s origin came from one of the three persons involved: Jack Kirby.
The first plot element has to do with an orphaned, older teenager, who gets super powers via a scientific experiment, and this is intriguing. Even though I tried to approach this in an entirely objective manner, I still had some preconceived notions of both Kirby’s and Ditko’s proclivities. One of these was that it was Ditko’s nature to use older troubled teenagers for his heroes, while it was Kirby’s nature to use younger kids. So strong is Ditko’s aura surrounding Spider-Man that I just assumed that it was a Ditko trait, but I was not able to track down a single use of older orphaned teenagers, troubled or not, by Steve prior to Spidey.
What shocked me was how easy it was to find the template for the orphaned older teenaged hero, and a title that would provide key elements in piecing together the puzzle. Surprisingly, it was in a title by Jack Kirby.
In The Double Life of Private Strong, (Archie Publications 1959) (not coincidentally the companion title to The Fly) the hero, Lancelot Strong, aka The Shield, is an orphaned high school senior, and like Spider-Man, his surrogate parents were gentle, compassionate, and supportive. His powers were the result of a scientific experiment.
Around this same time, Kirby was also working on the proposed newspaper strip, Chip Hardy, with a teen-aged science whiz hero. In fact, from about 1959 on, just about all of Kirby’s youthful heroes would be older teenagers, and most orphaned. Johnny Storm, Rick Jones (both predating Peter Parker) and the X-Men all fit into this mold.
The plot of Amazing Fantasy #15 is simple, yet unique: An orphaned teenage boy, raised by loving relatives, receives super-powers during a scientific experiment. After gaining his powers, a loved one is killed due to his inaction. This remorse leads him to vow to never let it happen again, thus becoming a hero.
Again, after cross checking stories by these three men, it became obvious that in structure and theme, the basic plot for Spidey’s origin came from one of the three persons involved: Jack Kirby.
There is also a Marvel romance story drawn by Kirby where a young girl is torn between the shy, nerdy, writer and the BMOC football star Flash Thompson. She chooses the shy guy who saves the prom. It’s interesting to see the name move from one jock to the other. Several fantasy stories by Kirby had older teenagers as protagonists.
The next element is very important: After gaining his powers, the hero loses a loved one due to his inaction, thus providing the impetus for becoming a hero. This may be the critical element that separates Spider-Man from almost all other heroes- yet it’s right there in The Double Life of Private Strong. While rushing off to test his newfound powers against a rampaging alien monster, The Shield, (Lancelot Strong), in his teen exuberance, ignores and leaves his best friend Spud in harms way.
After defeating the brute, the Shield returns to celebrate his triumph only to learn that the monster has killed Spud. The distraught Shield blames himself, and vows that it will never happen again. Similarly, Spider-man, in a moment of conceit and arrogance, ignores a thief, only to learn that that same thief would go on to kill his Uncle, which in turn, spurs him into action. He then vows that it will never happen again.
Harry Mendryk, an Simon & Kirby historian disagrees. From a blog post; “ Some comic experts have tried to equate this with the death of Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man origin story. However it just does not wash. Uncle Ben’s death was the result of Spider-Man’s unwillingness to intercede in a crime while Lancelot was very much fulfilling the role of a hero when he left Spud. Further it is not clear that Spud would in fact die as the policeman says that they will try to save him. And if that was not enough, Lancelot does not seem that remorseful”
I don’t know when I became “some comic experts” but that’s OK. Harry says that the details are different; of course they are, the details always changed, but the underlying concept was the same. The deaths were the result of teen age immaturity. Whether it’s interceding in a crime, or simple exuberance, the hero chose to overlook his responsibilities, and promises to do better. And Harry is wrong, Spud did die, that little blurb looks like a comic code add on, since it doesn’t point to anyone, and Spud never shows up again. Lancelot is shown just as remorseful as Peter Parker; the remorse is shown in the text. The use of the word “if” is how we say remorse. It’s the wish to have another chance to change history. Yes I do accept that Stan Lee’s words are more dramatic, but the meaning is the same. The concepts were the same. A friend is lost, and the hero now learns he must be more responsible.
So in one book, done less than three years before Spider-Man, Kirby used most of the critical plot elements that would show up a few years later in Spider-Man. Certainly Spider-Man’s is more melodramatic as one would expect from Stan’s dialogue, but the basic plot mirrors Private Strong. The panels where the boys mourn the loss of their loved ones are almost eerie in their similarities. So going by pattern matches, it appears we have the hero and villain from the Fly combined with the origin outline of the Shield.
This cross-pollination of a character from one story, and a plot from another is classic Kirby. He had touches of genius, but during the late 1950’s to mid-sixties, his characters and plots were interchangeable. His storytelling was very formulaic. He had archetypal heroes, a small list of stock villains, and, a set selection of plots. He mixed and matched these regardless of genres. His approach to comics was sort of a Chinese take-out menu, one from column A and one from column B. In legal lingo, Kirby was a chronic repeat offender. Kirby’s touches are repetitive and easily identifiable. This pattern can also be found on the Mighty Thor.
For Spider-Man, Kirby took the basic character traits (insect), and the villain (meaningless, petty crook) from the Fly, and the origin gimmick (scientific, older teen), and the dramatic ending (mourning a lost friend) from the Shield.
For Thor, Kirby reversed himself, taking the origin element, (finding of a mystical artifact that transforms a timid human to a colorful hero) and ending, (transformation back to hapless human) from the Fly, and the villain (rampaging aliens) from the Shield, plus borrowing the hero from an earlier DC fantasy story. (Tales of the Unexpected #16)
Thor, and Spider-Man appeared on the stands simultaneously. Thor had the earlier story number. Facts, and patterns says the Confessor, plus look for what doesn’t fit.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko say they rejected the original plot because of its similarity to The Fly, and created their own. The idea that they would reject one Kirby plot and then replace it with another Kirby plot makes no sense, it simply doesn’t fit. These two men had their own influences and patterns, and if they were to sit down and come up with an original origin, it would not have mirrored a recent Kirby plot, especially if they were specifically looking to avoid the appearance of a Kirby plot. It seems that when Ditko told Lee about the similarity to the Fly, Stan, according to Ditko, called Kirby, who then cobbled together a new origin gimmick based somewhat on the Shield. It appears that Stan and Steve took Kirby’s plot, added in Peter’s personality, some of the supporting cast, and maybe the details involving the wrestler and show business, but the basic plot was all Kirby. The idea that Kirby would plot the origin of a new character is the rule at Marvel in the early ‘60s. It would actually be an anomaly if Kirby “hadn’t” provided the origin.
But it doesn’t stop there. Not only does it appear that Kirby provided the plot for AF #15, it appears that he also assisted in plotting some of the following Spidey stories. The second and third Spider-Man stories have plot elements taken directly from the second and third Private Strong stories. That’s correct; the first three Spidey stories mirror the first three Shield stories. Shouldn’t be a surprise since the evidence of the job #’s show they were drawn in quick succession for future issues of Amazing Fantasy and were shelved when the series was cancelled.
The second Shield story involves the hero tracking down a Communist spy attempting to steal scientific secrets; the villain tries to escape in a submarine that the hero has to put out of action. This is also the plot of the Chameleon story, in Amazing Spider-Man #1. Yes there were detail differences just as one would expect, but the underlying plots are the same. The silliness of an enemy submarine in local waters is too absurd of a detail to think it unrelated.
The villain as a master of disguise was used by Jack Kirby in the first, second, or third story of just about every series he did between 1956 and 1963. (I mentioned he was predictable) It is found in his first Green Arrow story, (Green Arrows of the World, Adventure Comics #250, DC Pub.1958) the second Yellow Claw story, (The Mystery of Cabin 361, Yellow Claw #2, Marvel 1958) the third Dr. Droom tale, (Doctor Droom Meets Zemu, Amazing Adventures #2, Marvel 1961), the second Fantastic Four story, the second Ant-Man story, and the third Thor story, all preceding AS#1, plus numerous fantasy tales.
The specific element of a villain impersonating a hero in order to infiltrate, and/or incriminate him in a crime is one that Kirby used often. Prior to Amazing Spider-Man #1, it can be found in Fighting American, (Three Coins in the Pushcart, Fighting American #7, Prize Comics, 1954) Green Arrow, (Adventure Comics #250) and most recently in Fantastic Four #2. This theme would also be used in the test appearance of Captain America in Strange Tales #114.
In the third Shield, and Spider-Man stories, we are introduced to the recurring pain-in-the-ass authority figure/ nemesis – the one who always gets hoisted on his own petard; a Kirby icon, dating back to Captain America. The harasser being a media mogul personality shows up in a fantasy story a few months earlier. In both stories the adult child of that authority figure gets into a jam and needs the costumed hero to save him or her. In the Shield’s case, it’s the daughter of the general in charge of the base he is assigned to after being drafted. After being trapped in a runaway tank, the Shield must save her. In Spider-Man’s story, it’s the son of the editor of the newspaper who hires Peter Parker, and he is trapped in a runaway space capsule that Spider-Man must rescue. Even after saving their offspring, neither of the authoritarian figures considers the hero a particularly positive force, and both think the alter ego character is a bumbling idiot. In between the Shield, and Spider-Man, Kirby also used this gimmick in the Hulk. The scene where Spider-Man rides the spaceship is replacing a module mirrored closely to a scene in Sky Masters where Sky had to rescue an errant space ship by replacing a module. Even the rescue of the capsule uses a then unknown to the general public procedure that Jack had shown in his Sky Masters strip.
What are the odds, if Kirby didn’t assist on the plots, that the first 3 Spider-Man stories would mirror the first 3 Shield stories, plus elements from Sky Masters? Wouldn’t one think that Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko would have their own plotting patterns?
Astoundingly, the second issue of Amazing Spider-Man continues in this same vein. The Vulture story from AS#2 is interesting because not only does it have plot elements from an earlier Kirby story, the bad guy is an exact duplicate of the villain from that same Kirby story. In the first Manhunter story, (Adventure Comics #73, DC Pub. 1942) Kirby introduced The Buzzard, who, in an uncanny parallel to the Vulture, is a skinny, stoop shouldered, hump-backed, beak nosed maniac, dressed in a green body suit with a feathered collar that encircles the neck. Both men have the power of flight, the Buzzard by flapping his cape, and the Vulture via mechanical wings, and an anti- magnetism unit.
Both men’s schtick is to openly challenge the authorities and the media by boasting of their evil plans before they commit them. The Buzzard goes so far as to actually kill a reporter to deliver his message; the Vulture (in post code times) simply throws a rock through J. Jonah’s window.
The Tinkerer story in AS#2, has a very interesting hook, a plot element where a radio is doctored and infiltrated into scientists and government officials’ houses in order to spy and/or control them. This is not some generic scheme, but a very detailed and specific plot element used by Jack Kirby several times. The earliest use is in Captain America Comics #7, (Marvel Pub. Oct.1941) in a story titled “Horror Plays the Scales”. Kirby again used this element in a crime story from Headline Comics #24, (Prize Pub. May 1947) titled “Murder on a Wavelength”.
The alien aspect of this Spidey story appears adapted from a Kirby, Dr. Droom story. In his third story, (Doctor Droom Meets Zemu, Amazing Adventures #3, Marvel 1961) Droom is following a suspicious character and overhears a plan by aliens in which one will infiltrate humanity and lay the groundwork for an alien invasion. Spider-Man’s capture and escape method seem to be lifted from a Challengers of the Unknown story. (The Human Pets, Challengers of the Unknown #3, DC Pub.1958) All of these stories are structured in typical Kirby style, with little characterization, all out action endings, devoid of any of the subtlety, pathos, or irony usually associated with Lee/Ditko offerings.
It’s a good time for me to mention something I call “Kirby’s silly science.” As identifiable as fingerprints, we all recognize it: scientific plot elements so ridiculous in their implausibility, yet so exciting visually, and conceptually, that it’s immediately acceptable; Mr. Fantastic, reaching up and catching a nuclear tipped Hunter missile in full flight, and throwing it miles away into the bay. The Submariner; in the freezing void of space, leapfrogging, from meteorite to meteorite, only to land on Dr. Doom’s spaceship, unstable molecules, and such.
The early Spider-Man stories were full of this pseudo-scientific stuff. In the story involving J. Jonah Jameson’s son trapped in the space capsule, we first see NASA trying to snare the disabled capsule in a net suspended from a parachute, when this fails, Spider-Man, straddling a jet, snares the space capsule with his web and rides it like a bucking bronco, completely overlooking the fact that space capsules orbit far above the range of a jet, and the extreme heat generated during re-entry would fry a human being, even one with Spider powers.
This feels like Kirby’s silly science to me; in fact, it is reminiscent of a scene in Sky Masters where they try to rescue an errant space capsule with a hook attached to a jet, combined with a satellite repair story centering around the hero replacing a module on a renegade satellite, also found in Sky Masters.
In Amazing Spider-Man #1 the Chameleon comes up with a mechanical means to communicate with Spidey due to his Spider instinct. In the third Ant-Man story Jack shows the villain Egghead unexplainably come up with a way to instantly communicate with the insects– getting to Ant-Man. Ant-Man did the same thing with a screwdriver in his origin. This same unexplained bit also shows up in Spidey #5 when the villain Dr. Doom mysteriously comes up with a way to communicate with the insectoid Spider-Man. Jack’s scientists were fast, handy and smart. It was dumb but effective as a plot element. It was a Jack Kirby bit of iconography.
Another facet of Kirby’s silly science, and plotting pattern, is the anti-climactic ending, where the scientist hero, in one panel, whips up some bit of gadgetry that defeats a villain who has been beating his brains out for the previous 15 pages. Kirby’s monster tales are full of them as opposed to Lee and Ditko’s more cerebral ironic endings.
Challengers of the Unknown’s Professor Haley was good at these instant cures, and the FF’s Reed Richards was the master, but early on, Peter Parker stood toe to toe with them. In the first Vulture story, from Amazing Spider-Man #2, after getting his hat handed to him, Peter Parker, based on nothing but a hunch, theorizes that the Vulture’s powers must be magnetic and whips up, in one panel, an anti-magnetic device with his handy dandy screwdriver. How Kirbyish can you get? Similarly whipped up out of nothing elements occur in the first Doc Ock, (a super acid) and the first Lizard story. (an antidote) The super acid bit was also used earlier in a Challengers story. This kid was good!
Compare this to the atmospheric, cerebral, and quietly ironic solutions and climaxes that Lee and Ditko specialized in on their sci-fi/horror tales of this period. This deus ex machina style ending is not part of their repertoire, it simply doesn’t fit.
To Kirby, scientists were scientists; he made no real distinction between the disciplines. In one story the hero was a physicist, the next a chemist, perhaps a biologist or a metallurgist, whatever was needed for the story. Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man, was equal part entomologist, chemist, cybernetician, and machinist. Reed Richards was master of all sciences, and Peter Parker, though a high school student was equally as versatile. After receiving the spider powers, this kid went home and with his Mr. Wizard Home Chemistry Lab created a formula for a web, and the means to propel it. Then in the Vulture story he suddenly becomes a physics master, and invents an anti-magnetic device. In the Tinkerer tale, he is assisting an electronics genius, and up against the Lizard, Peter’s become an expert in serums and antidotes. This boy was truly amazing! It’s a shame he gave all that scientific ability up to become a news photographer. Kirby’s handiwork is all over the early stories.
Thankfully, these pseudo-science elements soon ended, and I’m thinking it happened when Jack stopped assisting Stan on Spider-Man plots, and Ditko took over. So it seems clear that Kirby’s participation with Spider-Man extended further than just a rejected proposal. It appears that he not only created the character, he also assisted greatly in the origin and early story lines and added many early plot elements.
Again, is this out of character? No. Kirby helped Stan with the plotting of several characters even when not specifically drawing them. We know he helped out Wally Wood on Daredevil and Don Heck on Iron Man. Why wouldn’t Kirby assist Stan on Spider-Man? The early Marvel titles and characters were never considered private domains. Stan certainly had no compunction about Kirby doing the first 2 covers, or a back up story.
Remember Stan Goldberg’s words. “Jack would sit there at lunch, and tell us these great ideas about what he was going to do next. It was like the ideas were bursting from every pore of his body. It was very interesting because he was a fountain of ideas.”
So much for actual research, now let’s speculate a little further. In mid-1961, Martin Goodman noticed that the sales of the Atlas monster books were slowing down, and while looking for a replacement genre, he realized that DC seemed to be having some success with super-heroes. He decided that Marvel should take a hesitant step in that direction, and either he or Stan Lee talked to Jack Kirby, who had a 20-year history of creating super-heroes. They decided on a team concept with a twist, the characters would not always get along. Kirby went home and cobbled together a story using parts of his last 2 team series, the Challengers of the Unknown, and his recent syndicated strip Sky Masters of the Space Force, and he presented it to Stan Lee. Stan added in the personalities, the background details, the speech patterns, and Fantastic Four was born.
Seeing that the FF was selling but still a little wary of jumping full bore into the super-hero market, Stan next talked with Jack about using an Atlas-style monster as a hero. So Kirby went home, matched together a recent Atlas monster with a Sky Masters plot element dealing with a scientist saving a kid from a rocket blast, threw in his radiation-caused mutation concept he had used since Blue Bolt days, and you have the Hulk. Again Stan added in the soap opera, the personalities, the linear continuity, and the human aspects he specialized in.
Martin, seeing that both series were selling, decided to go balls to the wall into the super-hero genre, complete with costumes, secret identities, and all the trappings. Stan again went to Jack and asked him if he had any other concepts lying around. Kirby remembered a recent story revolving around the mystical hammer of Thor and retconned it into a superhero. Kirby, doing just as he had with the FF – went back to the last two pure super-hero series he had worked on, took the character aspects from the Fly, plus elements suggested by Jacobson, mixed it in with the plot from the Shield, used the original title from the unused Simon proposal, et voila! Spider-Man!
It is possible, in fact probable, that when Kirby presented this proposal to Lee, Stan had some reservations because his vision of the character was a little different. It didn’t matter, because Kirby was too busy to draw this feature anyway—Stan, and the new artist could make the changes. They could flesh out, and add their own take on the characters–Kirby was too busy: He was drawing the FF and the Hulk full time, and besides Spider-Man, he had simultaneously worked up Thor, and Ant-Man.
All this fits in with the very first account of how Spider-Man came to be. Remember, Stan said that Kirby was too busy and he (Lee) chose Steve Ditko to draw the feature after the concepts were done, and it fits in with Ditko’s first recollections. What doesn’t fit is Stan Lee’s story of how when he saw Kirby’s version of Spider-Man, that the vision was too godlike, too buffed and perfect physically. Kirby at the time was drawing all his people thin and gangly. (look at the original Thor) If Stan didn’t like Kirby’s version, then why did he have Jack draw the first two covers? And it’s funny, but Jack had no problem drawing a slender, Spider-Man on the covers. But does this fit in with what we know about how Marvel worked in the early 1960s?
I think it does. Marvel had a modus operandi also. Evidence shows that Kirby helped out on just about every new project, even the ones he didn’t draw. (origin plot, and costume design for Iron Man, splash page, cover and plot elements for Daredevil, etc.)
Why wouldn’t Jack be involved similarly in any Ditko projects? There were no separate fiefdoms at Marvel at this time. Ditko worked with Kirby, and Kirby certainly helped out with the first two covers, he provided an advertising blurb in the first issue, he did a back-up story in #8. I would not be surprised if Ditko gave some plot ideas for the FF. Jack did cover retouches and corrections. He also did a Spider-Man crossover story in Fantastic Four Annual #1 in the summer of 1963, and in Strange Tales Annual #2, Fall 1963, both of which appeared before AS#6. The Fantastic Four was intertwined with Spider-Man like no other Marvel series.
In the early days of Marvel, there was no sense of separate books; everyone contributed to every series. It’s amazing, but I don’t think coincidental, that every member of the bullpen was multifaceted: Lee would edit, write, and script; Leiber would pencil, ink, and write; Kirby would pencil, create, and plot; Ditko could pencil, ink, and plot, etc. There seems to have been a true all-for-one atmosphere early on in the bullpen. I actually think this is why these men were the ones picked when Stan Lee regrouped Atlas in 1959. It was this flexibility, and multi talented nature that allowed Stan to create the Marvel method of storytelling.
I think the most important thing to take away from the stories of Kirby helping out Wallace Wood, and Don Heck is that it wasn’t unusual; it was just another day at the office. It was Kirby’s nature to help out.
So, to wrap up, we have the title of the series, which was likely contributed by Kirby. We have the main character of the series surely created by Kirby, with an assist to Sid Jacobson. And we have the origin, and first couple of stories, most likely plot assisted by Kirby. How much more does it take to deserve co-creative status?
Never the less, I am not on any campaign to get Kirby an official credit on Spider-Man. Ditko/Lee works just fine for me. Yet for historical purposes, I do believe that his contributions should be recognized.
So does this mean that Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko are lying? I don’t think so. I think this is an example where each one is telling the truth from their own perspective. Jack Kirby was a conceptualist, an idea man, he felt that creation was the coming up of new ideas. Stan Lee is a writer, he’s a word man, he naturally feels the act of creation starts with the fleshing out of the personality and giving voice to the character. And Steve is an artist, his idea of creation is the giving of form, and texture, and atmosphere to a shapeless thought. To thine own self be true, and I think they are.
In my opinion, Spider-Man is the classic example of a true collaboration, omit any one of the three men involved and you end up with a weaker, or non-existent creation.
If just Kirby and Lee had worked on the title, we would have invariably seen it head into the all-out adventure, or cosmic/mythic realms of Kirby’s other titles, thereby losing out on the gritty, earthiness Ditko added. If Lee and Ditko had created it from scratch, we would have had a hero more like the cerebral Dr. Strange, lacking the action/adventure facet that Kirby added. The combination helped eliminate the individual excesses, while keeping the best of each.
Because Kirby’s participation ended quickly doesn’t detract from his role in the creation, without his character concepts, and strong action based foundation, Spider-Man might never have found that perfect mix of the psychological and physical aspects. Left to his own devises, Ditko’s characters and stories usually lack the testosterone based fun fantasies, that pure physicality, that the super hero genre demands. His characters thought too much, and acted too little.
And without Stan Lee, in my opinion, we would have been without the single most vital ingredient that made Spider-Man the most unique character in comics. Human frailty!!! More than any other character he worked on, Stan identified with Peter Parker. His vision of the everyman as hero made Spidey the most conflicted, the most human, and the most unique hero ever created. His blueprint was the perfect recipe for a super hero in the post war era. It was an age when the common man, no longer felt in control of his own destiny. Spider-Man was not just fighting bad guys; he was fighting our doubts, our rages, and our feeling of helplessness. He, like most people, (especially the teens reading his books) was looking for their role in society, and was turned away at every stop. Stan Lee made Spider-Man one of us. This is why Spidey not only continued, he thrived, long after both Kirby and Ditko, no longer had any input.
Together we got the perfect blend of Kirby’s solid histrionics, Ditko’s philosophic atmospherics, and Lee’s melodramatic human voice.
It just doesn’t get any better folks.
Who created Spider-Man? There’s room for all three
Previous – 17. The House That Jack Built | Contents | Next – 19. Spider-man: The Case For Kirby
We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe
As a matter of policy, Warner Brothers refused to share profits with its television personnel–including Huggins, its most gifted and indispensable producer. Huggins was directly responsible for the studio’s three most successful series, but was not even given credit for having created Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip, which studio executives dishonestly claimed had been based on properties already owned by the studio. After five years, and growing animus Huggins left Warner Brothers, in October 1960 he became the vice -president in charge of television production at 20th Century-Fox.
There were international undercurrents already at work readying to boil up and erupt. The police action in South Viet Nam was threatening to expand. The small Island of Cuba had just become a Communist satellite when Fidel Castro took over in 1959. Blacks were beginning to stage sit-ins against Southern merchants who refused to serve them. In 1960, the Govt. approved over the counter birth control pills, thus ushering in a sexual revolution. A U-2 spy plane was shot down causing the U S Gov’t. great embarrassment. In. Nov. John Kennedy became the youngest elected president.
On Dec. 5, 1960 The Beatles luck in Hamburg runs out: George Harrison is deported for being underage and working in a nightclub; McCartney & Pete Best are arrested for pinning a condom to a brick wall and then igniting it. The two are told to leave Germany. The band returns home, discouraged.
Comic books certainly needed a shot in the arm. Sales were stagnant and companies were still slowly dying—the residual from the culture wars. It’s possible that Jack Kirby didn’t even notice. Jack was delirious, in Sept, Roz delivered Lisa, the girl from left field. She wasn’t planned, but she certainly was welcome. Once again the Kirby household was filled with the laughter of a newborn. According to Roz; “he (Jack) was a very good baby sitter, because he worked at home. So I was able to get out while he took care of the kids. He had more patience than I did! Like at night, if anybody cried, he was the one who got up and walked the floor with them while I slept. He was great that way.’
JFK, and Jack Kirby were the same age, and both were WW2 veterans, both from the Northeast and both had a vision of grandeur and greatness. They both possessed a vigor and energy that brought out the best in their collaborators. And they both knew the future was in the stars.
From John Kennedy’s May 25th 1961 message to the joint Congress:
Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs
Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.
I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.
Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share…
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space;
Now the space race and the Cold War were nothing new, in fact from the moment of Sputnik they were an integral part of the comic books. Jack’s work on Race For The Moon, and as early as mid-1958, in Challengers of the Unknown #3, Rocky (the brawny Chall) volunteers for a space flight in the hopes that it would cut years out of the space race. Rocky would undergo changes while in space and develop super-powers such as flaming on, invisibility, shooting electric bolts, and size changing. Jack’s Sky Masters strip often centered on the space race and geopolitical intrigue. But by the late 1950’s the thrill of the actual space research had lost some of its luster, and JFK saw landing a man on the moon as a rallying cry to reignite our national sense of purpose.
Jack Kirby needed no rallying call, everything he had been doing the last 4 years told him that what the public wanted was a hi-tech adventure strip exploring space and beyond in a positive and imaginative way. Martin Goodman gave him a vehicle.
In Hamburg Germany, the Beatles do their first studio recording when they serve as back-up band to British rock and roller Tony Sheridan. The two day session in June 1961, would lead to their first published recordings.
The Beatles in Germany At the Cavern.
It’s doubtful that an artform can be considered a part of pop culture without at some time in its infancy it is discredited as being a bad influence on the children who crave it. Comics had their moment in the mid-fifties. Rock music soon followed later in the decade when images of Elvis Presley’s shaking pelvis and Chuck Berry’s leer disturbed the blue noses to apoplexy. By 1961, television had been a staple of mass entertainment for little more than a decade. Yet in that decade it had come under blistering fire for its vapid content. Much like earlier lowbrow entertainment forms like pulp magazines, movies and rock and roll, there were calls for censorship and regulation. On May, 9, 1961 the newly appointed Chairman of the FCC Newton Minow gave what is regarded as one of the most influential speeches of the century when he laid down the gauntlet.
“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endless commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending; and most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”
Roy Huggins’ time at Fox was bitterly disappointing. He managed only one new series for TV- a takeoff of the movie Bus Stop. The titular location served as the focal point for an anthology series featuring the stories of wandering, disenfranchised characters that passed through. After a particularly intense episode starring the teen idol Fabian as a mass murderer, the FCC came down hard complaining about the violence and bad influence TV was becoming for children. Fox caved in and put Huggins on a sort of suspension and cancelled Bus Stop. In a move reminiscent of Wm. Gaines testimony before the House Committee investigating comics role in juvenile delinquency, Huggins criticized Newton. In a memorable article in Television Quarterly Huggins scolded the chair of the FCC and other cultural elitists for allowing their contempt for lowbrow–“their dread of being caught in a profane mood”–to cloud their judgment. Huggins’s essay amounted to a sophisticated and subtle defense of popular culture in an era when television producers did not make artistic claims for their work. “The public arts,” he wrote, “are created for a mass audience and for a profit; that is their essential nature. But they can at times achieve truth and beauty, and given freedom they will achieve it more and more often.” Fox allowed Huggins contract to lapse.
Minow’s description of television’s vapid content could just as easily described comics at the turn of the decade. Void of imagination or artistic flair. The joy had been drained from the artform due to the Wertham witch hunt, and no one had figured how to re-energize it. Most companies were just hanging on as new readers abandoned them wholesale. Jack Kirby tackled it head-on.
Jack moonlighted in 1961 by providing some spot illustrations for the Topps baseball cards. He drew little vignettes spotlighting an interesting fact about the player shown. He shared the duties with other cartoonists such as Jack Davis. One can be sure the extra check was welcome.
In early 1961, in a fantasy story Jack drew a tale of redemption. Headlining Tales of Suspense #22, (Oct. 61) Beware of Bruttu opens the issue; signed by Kirby and Ayers, with no mention of Lee. The absence of Lee on the credits is no small matter; Stan signed his work in the other series. In one sequence his hero, a huge orange brutish monster of a man, with four fingers, and short, ripped pants reacted; unaccustomed to his heft, he smashes through an entrance. The populace panics and he is confronted by policemen who shoot at him. To escape he smashes through the street and flees into the underground mazes. When he reaches his destination he smashes back up to the surface. The hero starts out as a small, timid, milquetoast of a man. Taunted all through high school and college over his size and timidity, he becomes a scientist, taunted even more by his colleagues and his secret love. He fantasizes about becoming large and strong as a fantasy comic book hulk. During a scientific experiment, he knocks into the machine and the resultant surge of radiation transforms him into that same orange, hulking monster. Unable to communicate he flees in desperation as the military is out to kill him. As the army corners him, he realizes that his life would be meaningless if he didn’t see his lost love once again. He wanders back to his home and confronts his girl. Unable to speak, he hears her confess her love for the small scientist and blames the monster for killing him. Shamed into action, he writes a note in the dirt telling her she is safe. He lumbers back to the laboratory and turns the machine up to full. He bathes himself in the radiation dreaming of his former self, and slowly transforms back into the small nerdy scientist. He smashes the machine and explains away the monster as an invading alien. He confesses his love to the girl and they are happy as the story ends. It’s a well written, well paced, and fully charactered story, filled with self-loathing, shame, doubt and redemption. It was published a month before Fantastic Four #1
It’s long been Stan Lee’s contention that the more human, conflicted heroes burst in a blinding flash from his head and started this new trend in storytelling; the result of a suggestion from his wife. Jack always claimed that it was a natural evolution of his patterns that led to the FF. If Jack was right we ought to be able to track down those transitional stories or the missing links from Golden Age silliness to modern naturalistic drama. I think the truth could be found in those issues preceding the FF. One only needs to start at the Challengers of the Unknown and work serially through the monster books.
I mention the above story because I think it answers most of the questions and shows that history of patterns that I rely on so deeply. I think of it as a Rosetta Stone into the understanding of how the Marvel Universe arose. Kirby’s fantasy stories were unique. They were also formulaic. There was always an underlying base of common sensical reality in the human reactions and interactions. The patterns show a multiple use of the small, timid, nerdy meme we find in the super-heroes such as Spider-Man. The human transformation from radiation was the major repetitive element in the super-heroes, first in the Fantastic Four, then the Hulk and Spider-Man. We see Jack evolve from speedo type briefs for his monsters to torn short jagged pants after transformation; as found in the FF, and the Hulk. We see the huge monster unable to communicate and then becomes hunted as a threat to be so much a part of the Hulk. Unrequited love shows up in Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor and as a subplot in the FF. The idea of these humanistic touches only starting in the super-heroes is silly. They don’t begin in the Bruttu story but too many elements converge to be ignored. I find it hard to believe that the two scenes of the large orange brute breaking through the door, fighting the police, and smashing into the underground were the result of coincidence. I see it as the work of a person building on what came before. Yet so many people claim that the personality of the Hulk was so unique and evidence that Stan Lee came up with the hero. They fail to look for the precursors that preceded it; much like the claim that Spider-Man as an angst ridden teen-ager was unique to his origin. The only alternative is to deny that artists build upon their ideas.
Around the same time, Martin Goodman contacted Stan Lee and told him that he had data that told him that DC’s new super-hero team, The Justice League of America -–a group of their solo super-heroes– was selling out its runs. Goodman wanted Stan to do something similar. Stan figured, not another super-hero venture. He cancelled them twice before, but what Martin wanted, Martin got. Stan claims it was at a time of personal crisis where he was lamenting his role in the woeful status of the comic industry. He had always wanted to be a legit writer. But his position was a well-paying one. Stan contacted Jack Kirby and they brainstormed over ideas. They decided that it didn’t make sense to bring back old characters and make a team ala Justice League. Atlas’ old super characters weren’t that memorable, and the last time they were brought back was a failure. They decided to create totally new characters and have them form a team. “I came in with presentations, I’m not gonna wait around for conferences. This is what you have to do. I came in with the Fantastic Four. I didn’t fool around. I said you’ve got to do super-heroes.” Kirby recalls. “It (the FF) was a revolution in the sense that it was now–the superhero had become now…it was everything based on right now and what people saw everyday and might see five or ten years from now.”
Does anyone know if Stan ever read the Challengers of the Unknown?
Stan says his wife suggested that he give this new project his all and write the series as he would like.; a sudden surge of creativity and purpose.
The new team would consist of a brainy scientist, his best friend, a brawny air force pilot, a beautiful woman and her hot headed kid brother; the perfect Kirby team template as evolved from Challengers, to 3 Rocketeers, and Sky Masters; also very similar to Roy Huggins template from the group TV series. The gimmick for the team uniting was to steal an experimental rocket and blast-off in order to beat the Russians into space- similar to the Challenger’s story where Rocky goes into space and receives super-powers. While in space they get bombarded by Cosmic Rays and when the spaceship malfunctions they crash land back on Earth, only to be astounded that they are still alive- just like the origin of the Challengers, with a space ship subbing for a jet plane. Then one by one they notice changes, first the woman astoundingly turns invisible, then the brawny pilot becomes a rocky monstrosity-strong as an ox. Then when the rock-creature swings a tree branch at the scientist, he stretches out of the way and finds he can stretch all of his body to extremes. Finally, the young hot head burst into flames and finds he can fly. Several of these were similar to powers gained by the Challenger who went into space. The idea of cosmic rays changing people is one that Kirby used many times, as early as a Blue Bolt story in 1940. Even Sky Masters had a story arc centered on an astronaut whose personality changes whenever he encounters the Van Allen radiation belt.
Much of the technical data that NASA sent Kirby for Sky Masters dealt with the problems of space radiation. Plus, several recent movies had used radiation as a catalyst for mutations. Kirby said; “At the time, the big topic was radiation. We had recently exploded the bomb and I was looking to create supermen. In all my work, you see the times are reflected. I don’t contrive stories…and I’m not giving you fairy tales. At the time radiation was the big thing and The Fantastic Four came out of those times.” As, it should be noted did several of the Kirby monsters found in Harvey, DC, as well as the Atlas stories. Realizing that it was an act of fate, the four astronauts decide that they should band together and use their powers to help mankind- thematically very similar to the group origin and decision that formed the Challengers of the Unknown. Unlike other super heroes, they at first wore no costumes, rather they worked in jump suits, just like the Challs, and they didn’t hide their actual names behind their team names ala the Challengers. Jack says that if he had stayed at DC working on the Challengers that they would have moved in a similar vein, probably getting super-powers and becoming more cosmic in scale. As it was the Challs fought villains with super powers, and explored the cosmos, and ran into a megalomaniac monarch who wanted absolute power while based in an eastern European duchy. One noteworthy aspect of the Fantastic Four is that each issue would contain one long form story, broken into smaller chapters, instead of the 3-4 stories found in the anthology titles. This was also something Kirby experimented in with the Challengers of the Unknown. No one else was dabbling in this format. No other Atlas title featured one self-contained story per issue. Something Stan had never done before.
Stan named the new group the Fantastic Four and braved DC’s ire by adding it to the schedule without deducting another title. Martin had his team title, and Kirby had his space title. Stan had his soap opera. Fantastic Four hit the stands on Aug. 8, 1961. The issue was inked by George Klein. The author was ten years old that exact day, and bought a copy with birthday gift money. Atlas was ready to explode.
The German Polydor single, My Bonnie b/w When the Saints Go Marching In was released in August 1961 listed as TONY SHERIDAN AND THE BEAT BROTHERS ([Polydor / 24 673) which became a big top-ten hit for Sheridan in Germany. The credit to the Beat Brothers came about because the name Beatles was considered too close to the German word for penis. When released in the UK in early 1962, the credit was changed back to the Beatles. The Beatles had a record! The music world was about to be amazed!
the mod’s in Germany
Just as with the Rawhide Kid, it should be noted, the FF’s personality quirks, and love triangle, soap opera-ish continuity seem to come from Stan, and his teen romance background-again the blending of strengths making for a better whole. This also mirrors closely the relationships found in many of Roy Huggins group shows. It’s important to note that when I suggest that a particular detail emanated from one person or the other, it does not diminish either. They worked together as a team, and though one may have suggested an element, the other might well have made modifications and changes to fit the new story. It was a true collaboration, and neither dominated the other. But it is obvious that most of the concepts and themes originated from Jack Kirby, but not to the exclusion of Stan who surely supplied plot elements and concepts himself. Stan’s contributions seem to be more towards the characterization and human interaction, though Kirby’s romance experience certainly provided him with no lack of characterization skills. This focus on the family unit over plot was a hallmark of the series. Many of the early letters to the editor noted the team dynamic and the squabbling and interplay between the characters as the main attraction of the new title, as well as the monstrous hero-the Thing. Most important, after 20 years producing comics, Stan Lee had a bonafide hit—something he never had before. To Jack it was life as usual—just another hit. Ho-Hum.
This collaboration was magical, the sheer exuberance and imagination was unmatched. Flo Steinberg, Stan’s secretary tells of how when Stan and Jack got together to plot the next issues, she would have to sometimes tell them to quiet down. The boys were so raucous, with Stan leaping about the office furniture, and Jack providing sound effects while acting out proposed scenes that they were disturbing the bullpen employees. Jack never had this sort of playful partnership before. Will Eisner and Joe Simon were always businesslike and calm. But once Jack left the offices, he returned to his own little world, oblivious to what he and Stan had discussed. Stan was the editor, but Jack was the writer-despite what the credits said. “In other words, he (Stan) didn’t know what the story was about and he didn’t care because he was busy being an editor. I was glad because he was doing the same as Joe did. He left me alone,” Jack told Eisner. John Romita, a bullpen artist had a unique perspective of Stan and Jack’s working method. “Sometimes Stan would offer to drive Jack and me home and they would plot stories in the car. That was the interesting thing, I would be in the back seat of Stan’s convertible, and these two giants were up front plotting the future of the Fantastic Four and Thor. Or whatever they were working on. And I would listen- absorbing all of that stuff and getting a big kick out of how they ignored each other. Sometimes I could hear that one was talking about something completely different. It was interesting because it appeared that they would finish their conversation, each thinking that they had convinced the other, when it was obvious to anybody else that they hadn’t.”
They would throw the most outlandish plots around and sometimes talk at cross-purposes, but once Jack was home, all was forgotten and Jack would draw his own stories and when Stan saw them, he had no idea what was going on. They didn’t match up to what he and Jack had talked about. But Stan always had the last laugh, as Jack would say “Stan Lee wouldn’t let me put in the dialogue.” Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon explain in their book Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book;
“With Kirby handling the basic construction of the stories according to the collaborative method of working together, Lee had more time to focus on the dialogue. Indeed, Lee had to focus on dialogue. It was his main tool for shaping the story in the direction he wanted it to go, a way to infuse some of his own personality back into the intense artwork submitted by Kirby. Lee drew on his skill with romance and humor books to provide livelier and more fulsome dialogue than had ever been seen in a super-hero title. Lee’s dialogue indicated not just character type- good guy, mad scientist, street thug- but helped differentiate the characters among themselves in their closest groupings. At his best, Lee gave each character a verbal stamp of identification equal to the visual imprint made by the artists. Lee’s Thing seemed less educated and generally angrier than Mr. Fantastic, who came across as stuffier and more deeply arrogant than the teenaged Torch, and so on. Each major villain also received his own vocal fingerprint. A comic book reader in the early 1960’s might have argued that the elegant competence of DC’s super-hero artists was somehow preferable to Kirby’s rocket-charged virtuosity, but no one could make a compelling case for writing in broad strokes, with all of the characters sounding alike. Few comics had offered writing that could be enjoyed on its own, and none of them had been super-hero titles. Twenty years of benign neglect and creative contempt for the super-hero now worked in Kirby’s and Lee’s favor. Even the smallest changes seemed radical and daring. “
The sad truth is that for most of the history of comics, the writer and the words were the lowest rung of the creative ladder. The artist always felt they were making a creative statement, they were creating something from nothing, but the writers were a collection of has-beens and never-weres, rubber stamping their crude little lurid tales of good and evil, for pennies a page. Jack Oleck would brag about how many times a single story would be used in different books by different companies.
Kirby also did Kid Colt Outlaw
With the exception of possibly Will Eisner, no comic writer ever dreamed of literary recognition for his comic work, and this includes some very impressive writers, such as Jules Ffeifer, Mario Puzo, and Mickey Spillane, who all dabbled in comic books for a quick paycheck. It was up to Stan Lee to try to lift the literary content of the comic book to new heights; not that that would take much, just adapt long recognized fiction writing techniques of character development, and melodrama to the lowest form of storytelling.
It has also been noted, especially by comic historian Greg Theakston that the FF have an elemental subtext to them, the combination of earth, fire, wind and water. This theme had been used by Kirby before, in an issue of the Challengers, they faced a villain who possesses a mystical object that grants him the elemental powers of fire, wind, water and than the solidity and strength of a being rooted to the earth. The Thing is an interesting and unique character. A monster who looks like a mudslide with unlimited strength and a nasty temperament, though heroic at his core. Of all Kirby’s great creations, the Thing might have been his most personal. Jack has been quoted as saying, “He has my manners, he has my manner of speech, and he thinks the way I do. He’s excitable and you’ll find that he’s very, very active among people, and he can muscle his way through a crowd. I find I’m that sort of person.” The Thing was the embodiment of the old Jewish myth, the Golem. The Golem was a very popular figure in Jewish folklore and legend. The Golem is a clay formed manlike creature that is created by use of mystical powers drawing on an elemental basis that are to be found in Kabbalistic lore. He was mindless, and often uncontrollable. His mission was to protect the Jewish population from blood accusations and false threats.
Rabbi Loew of Prague, (Kirby’s ancestral roots) spoke these words after being told by God to create a Golem.
“Four elements,” he said, “are required for the creation of the golem or homunculus, namely, earth, water, fire and air.”
“I myself,” thought the holy man, “possess the power of the wind; my son-in-law embodies fire, while my favorite pupil is the symbol of water, and between the three of us we are bound to succeed in our work.” He urged on his companions the necessity of great secrecy and asked them to spend seven days in preparing for the work. Earth was the principle ingredient and it was found in a loamy riverbed.
The Golem was the source for several early science fiction movies. One earlier comic character, the Heap, a back-up strip in Hillman’s Airboy Comics fit the organic monster/hero template first seen in the Golem, though not the religious intent.
Again we get the repeated idea of elemental formulation or perhaps the original source. Surely the stories of the claylike Jewish protector were among the Old World stories that Mama Rose regaled her young son with, or perhaps passed on by the Jewish mystics who looked over the Jews of the Lower East Side; the same rabbis and Kabbalah mystics who held an exorcism over the 9 year old Jacob Kurtzberg when he was deathly ill with pneumonia. Kirby remembered; “My mother held much faith in this kind of thing. She could not give me up. She called on the rabbis and they all gathered around my bed and chanted in Hebrew: “Demon, come out of this boy,” they said, “What is your name, demon?” Jewish legend and superstition was a major part of Kirby’s upbringing.
Jack never force-fed his religious beliefs to the readers, but the observant eye can find the Jewish influences and inspirations in his work. There was a drawing of the Thing dressed in Jewish prayer garb, complete with yarmulke and shawl while holding the Talmud in a treasured location on a wall in the Kirby household. The fallen angel, the idea of a godlike mythological super-hero coming in times of need was used repeatedly by Kirby. Other allusions to Hebrew mythology would show up time and again in Kirby’s work. The legend of Samson, Atlas, and the angelic “Watchers” and the Nephilim race born of gods and monstrous races that inhabit the Earth turn up in series such as the FF, Thor and the Eternals.
There were always precedents
Per Jack’s usual methodology, just the month before he had been working on a fantasy story that evolved around a man transforming into a big orange monster due to atomic rays. His fantasy stories never went to waste. The hero was a small researcher picked on because of his size. In Jack’s stories everything changed due to radiation, I like the wide eyes and flattened noses.
It has long been a matter of contention over who created the FF; Stan or Jack.
Lee claims he did, and points to a synopsis that still exists, while Kirby claims that he presented the idea based on his Challengers concept. The synopsis can be quickly ignored. It is obviously an overview of a brainstorming session with him and Kirby. Even Stan has admitted that he and Kirby got together before the synopsis. Jack says; “It was my idea, It was my idea to do it the way it was, my ideas to develop it the way it was. I’m not saying that Stan had nothing to do with it. Of course he did. “We talked things out.” It was Stan’s routine to have his notes from these bullpen sessions typed up for later use when he dialogued the presented art. Likewise there is evidence that while they brainstormed, Stan and Jack would sometimes pace and breakdown the story directly on art pages. There are examples showing action lines and character positioning on the backs of several of the existing pages of early FF stories; nothing by way of specifics or dialogue, just a flow of continuity. These pages were taken home for Jack to refer to. The finished pages show that Kirby followed some of the breakdowns while ignoring others.
Stan also states that at this time, he had an epiphany. He was worried about job security and was thinking of quitting, when his wife suggested he do this new book but do it the way that Stan would do if he was writing for himself. To exit with a literary bang, so to speak. Unfortunately comic books are the wrong business for epiphanies. The market was small kids, and that’s who it was written for. But Stan says he brought a newer approach, a more adult, more dramatic, more literate style than he used on other books. If that is so, we should be able to recognize these new approaches.
The best way to see whose the guiding hand on FF #1 was is to look at the actual story. It is usually easy to spot if a writer is the backbone of a story, especially one purposely trying to write a more literate plot. The plot is unusually tight, cohesive and logical- because writers construct in a fairly logical process connecting each element and filling in plot holes for an easy to follow consistent storyline. The best example is Neal Gaiman’s Sandman. The plots are so thick and the stories so tight that even without seeing the script one recognizes whose brainchild this book is. When one actually sees the script it is no surprise to see the writer leading the artists step by step. Artists on the other hand see things visually- looking for a visual punch that catches the eye and moves the story along. They tend to ignore the wordy little elements that tie a story together logically and make it cohesive. Stan explained; “Jack created characters visually.” An artist’ story might look great, but often lacks the cohesive details of plotting that tie everything together. So let’s study the actual book.
Let’s start with the cover. Stan says he is working mightily to produce a new, more adult, more hip approach to super-heroes, yet he has Kirby make the heroes secondary to the monster of the week central figure. And no hint that this was to be a different style book, unlike the companion title Amazing Adult Fantasy where Lee makes it very clear that this book was to be a more adult oriented approach (as evidenced by both the title and the blurb). The Ditko book features several small excellent twisty stories.
Perhaps the weakest of Kirby’s covers
The cover of FF #1 is actually one of Kirby’s more mundane covers; the monster even lack’s Kirby’s usual pizazz. The cover doesn’t even present an event found in the storyline. The characters offer nothing dramatic, most are fairly stationary, with no Kirby extreme posing dynamic flair. Mr. Fantastic is shown tied up in ropes- for no apparent reason. There is no one on the cover to have tied him up, in fact, the actual villain isn’t even on the cover; a nice visual effect that has no literary connection
Let’s look at the FF #1 interior to see just what this new, more adult, and more realistic approach to comics looks like.
The story begins with a call to arms, via a flare spelling out The Fantastic Four, very visual, very dramatic, just not realistic. There is no known flare that spells out phrases. But that’s minor, we next see a fashionably elegant looking woman visiting a friend for a social tea. She spots the flare (from inside) and without warning becomes invisible and departs leaving the “friend” aghast. She is then “seen” shoving her way into a taxi leaving a trail of disheveled people behind. Unknown to the driver, luckily cruising around at random drives near her destination, at which point a voice tells him to stop, and an invisible hand hands him the fare, which causes the taxi driver to drive away in fear.
So logical—the writer must have been working overtime
Again, visually effective, but plot wise it makes no sense, it’s simple slapstick! An adult would simply have excused herself from the party, and get a cab to take her to her destination, that way not alarming or hurting anyone, and not leaving the trip to her destination up to the whim of an unknowing taxi driver. Lucky the taxi driver wasn’t going to Brooklyn! There was no logical reason for her to turn invisible at the first sight of the flare.
Next we see a large hulking figure out shopping for clothes, trying to act incognito, when he sees the flare. So what does he do? He throws aside the clothes and busts through a door, in brown underwear no less, scattering debris and scaring the innocent folk, and when told to stop by a policeman, he runs away forcing the cop to fire at him. At this time he tears a hole in the street and jumps into the…how to say it nicely…sweet smelling, sanitary sewage system and swims to a point that he believes is near his destination and without warning breaks upward into a busy street and gets hit by an automobile. Apparently unhurt by the collision, he makes his way uptown. The street folk scatter in fear. Undaunted, he goes his merry way. Why not simply exit the store and return the way he came and not cause a ruckus? Because that would be logical!
Very, very effective visuals, full of energy and power, but in reality, he is now a wanted felon for destruction of private and public property, indecent exposure, resisting arrest, and fleeing the scene of an accident.
Now we cut to another scene. A typical all-American teenager working on his souped up hot rod, when a friend points out the flare in the sky, immediately the teen bursts into flame, melting his precious car, and flies off to who knows where. Amazingly, his friend say that “you’re turning into a—a—Human Torch” The very name that the lad gave himself when he received the powers; the very type of forced coincidence that a good writer would avoid. He then encounters 3 Air Force jets, armed with nuclear weapons, no less!! He accidentally(?) melts all three jets–luckily the pilots all parachute to safety– but not before one of the jets fires off a nuclear tipped Hunter Missile (right there over Central City!!!) Just as the flaming teenager is about to meet his doom, a pair of hands attached to unbelievably long stretched arms shoots up and catches the missile, and hurls it far from the shore where it explodes over the sea; interesting because the man with the stretching ability does not possess super strength. Now the boy has lost his flaming ability and is falling out of the sky. Quickly the man with the stretching ability bridges several buildings and the boy grabs him and stops his downward spiral. Great action shots, but totally illogical. The section ends with the stretching man greeting the other three and casually thanking them for responding so quickly to his call. Not one mentioning of the chaos outside the window.
Oh! They have doors! Don’t writers know nuclear bombs don’t explode harmlessly over the sea?
So the first chapter ends with one member being hunted by the police for various serious charges against humanity, another being hunted by not only the local police, but the FBI, and the military for destruction of Gov’t property, and endangering the lives of 3 pilots, and resisting arrest. And worst of all, a nuclear warhead has just exploded off shore, and the deadly radiation cloud is spreading over the city, and what is the man’s response? Hi guys, thanks for heeding my call!!!
Is this is the work of a writer hell bent on creating a new, more realistic, more adult, more literate style super-hero book? One where actions have repercussions and the action plays second fiddle to the human interaction? Or one where an artist wants to introduce these characters with a visual bang? Kirby states; “Super powers are a show gimmick. Why does a comedian decide to drop his pants on stage? Or why does a dancer come out and do a certain type dance? The answer is attention. You want the reader’s attention, if you can’t get it with ordinary people; you get it with extraordinary people.”
Maybe the writer is just building up the tension, maybe these run-ins with the local and federal officials will be dealt with later in the story. Guess what, it never happened! This whole chapter is never referred to again; there was no manhunt for the Thing or the Torch, no nuclear radiation to bother the civilians. It’s like it was all a dream. Bobby Ewing behind the shower curtain. Too many things left to chance to read like a well thought out sequence of events.
Maybe this writer with his back against the wall hints at how this was resolved in his synopsis? Nope, not there, in fact there is no mention of any of these happenings in his synopsis. Where did the ideas come from? Surely this writer who created everything wrote the first 8 pages!!! This guy with just one last chance wouldn’t leave something as important as the introductions of the main characters up to someone else!
I think why these introductions are visually dramatic, and effective, while literarily incoherent and implausible is simple, they were the creation of the artist not the writer. A writer looking for natural, realistic, and humanistic plotting would have presented a more logical, coherent plot that lead to, and tied in with the next chapter. The artist just wants to catch the attention of the reader; the WOW!!! factor.
The WOW!!! factor: The Beatles back-up Little Richard
The next chapter offers a flashback to the origin. Surely this will be more coherent, and internally logical in nature.
It starts out with 4 people arguing about a surreptitious space flight to the stars, a scientist, his lovely girl friend, his best friend, and the girl’s younger brother. The gruff best friend doesn’t want to go, not because it would be illegal, in fact, there’s never a mention of the legal ramifications, but because they haven’t done enough research on the effects of cosmic rays on humans. ( Kirby concern)
So how is this debate settled, not by logic, or reason, but by the woman calling the gruff man a coward, (interesting since the gruff man was a heroic military pilot) and baiting him by way of feigned patriotism into accepting. (very grown up and adult)
Next we see them speeding to the spaceport, and only now do they realize that the woman and the teenager have no training or skills needed for the space flight. This amazingly adult observation is settled by the woman saying “I’m your fiancée, where you go, I go.” And the young boy responding “And I’m tagging along with sis—so it’s settled!” YEP!!! That always worked at my house, but the Biblical Ruth allusion is particularly nice.
The Kirby family at Neal’s Bar Mitzvah
Nonetheless, the 4 slip into the spaceship unnoticed. Amazingly this spaceship wasn’t controlled by a separate control center; this one must have had the pilot use a key and press on the accelerator, because they managed to lift off with no outside help. And wouldn’t you know it, the man seen earlier arguing about cosmic rays was right and when the cosmic rays hit the ship the pilot loses control and the disabled ship crashes back on Earth. The leader is such a dope, for an egghead. The writer was an egghead also. The problem with Cosmic Rays had been solved years before. At least 4 manned space flights occurred before the Fantastic Four. But one man was aware of the wariness of the Space Agency towards Cosmic Rays. Kirby had been receiving data on just that possibility while doing Sky Masters.
Luckily they survive the crash, but they all react strangely, they begin to bicker among themselves while the gruff pilot plays the blame game. Suddenly, the girl turns invisible, the burly man turns into a rock, the teen ager burst into flames, and the leader stretches. Just as quickly, all hostilities between them end and they decide to band together as a group, give themselves names, and help mankind. (very helpful, see first chapter 😉 Would a writer present them in such a jarring, disjointed way? Or, would he provide a logical and interesting flowing context to the events?
Of course there is no mention that they are now wanted for stealing a space ship and flying it with a minor on board!!! Not only are they now felons, they are also incompetent, inconsiderate, and irresponsible. If Stan wanted human frailty, he got it. Worse, there are never any consequences for their incompetence.
Is this silly, incoherent, illogical, mess of a plot the work of a professional writer inspired to do the best he can? Someone once said something about “it’s the Challs with super powers”, I disagree, at least in the Challs the chapters flowed into each other, and what happened in the first chapter tied into the latter ones, and they acted like adults. It’s amazing that the example most often given for showing that the FF were more adult and real as compared to the DC characters is that they bickered like children. No, more likely this was the result of an artist trying to amaze the reader with Bam Bam Pow!! Great visuals of the spaceship, the cosmic rays, and the new found powers. Bad plot, pretty pictures.
Then we come to the final section of the story, the fight with the Mole Man.
What happened to the angst and contrariness? – Some varmits live forever
This chapter, if read separately, is at least a consistently constructed story with a beginning and end, but it still follows the formula used in countless Kirby Atlas monster stories. But when read as a continuation of the first 2 chapters, one realizes that there is no connection, nothing from the first 2 chapters plays a part in this one, except their powers. The only nod to the personality squabbles is Ben Grimm wisecracks at Reed’s expense. But there is no bickering or squabbling among the members. This whole chapter feels like it was tacked on as an afterthought.
Even this chapter has major plot holes and inconsistencies that a beginning writer would have caught, much less one driven to do his best work. Yet it does introduce a very compelling villain; the Mole Man and his underground minions. The visual is part Octavius Alexia from Sky Masters, and Batman’s Penguin, wearing 3D goggles, and swinging a staff. This story has some eerie similarities to the film Superman and the Mole Men. (1951) In both stories there are underground civilizations bent on attacking the surface. Kirby provides some great creatures from a three-headed dragon to a hoard of creepy crawlies. One interesting bit is that while trapped underground, the Mole Man has adapted to the darkness by evolving a bat-like radar sense that allows him to see in the dark-something first seen in The Shield during Kirby’s Lancelot Strong days. Strangely when cornered his cave simply destroys itself and the isolated one is even more isolated.
Mike Feldman, a wise historian has opined that the book reads like three totally separate tales spliced together, and I agree, it’s not the work of one person pouring out all his soul and skill in a last ditch effort to write something memorable. It feels like the work of a committee, with different people doing their own little parts, sometimes in harmony with the other, and sometimes at cross purposes.
One man wrote in a fit of frustration; “I’ve enjoyed many a Fantastic Four yarn in my day, but there was always something about them that never sat well with me. They become the top super heroes of the Marvel Universe, the first family of comics, famous and admired (while mutants are feared and loathed) but all they do is make a mess of NYC and cause trouble, because right here from the beginning they were a bunch of rogue squares (maybe not Johnny, he’s a dunce) that like to mess up and super scientists that take revenge against the world due to their shortcomings.”
Does any of this make sense?
What holds the whole thing together is not the plot, or the characterization, the only redeeming quality this book has going for it is the Kirby artwork, hiding the plot holes big enough for a Kirby monster to crawl thru. No one cares about the repercussions of melting three jets, and exploding a nuclear warhead over the bay when Kirby’s pictures make it look cool. It’s understandable to steal a space ship when it’s designed by Kirby.
It’s the same thing that made the Kirby monster tales so enjoyable, not the formulaic plots, whether provided by Lee, Lieber, or Kirby himself. It’s the visuals, the Kirby monsters. The Kirby excitement! There is nothing in the writing or the plotting that sets it apart from, much less above typical comic book writing. The only addition is some juvenile behavior, and some wise cracking added by Stan Lee in the dialoguing stage.
Lifted from Challengers of the Unknown – Kirby back where he started
If one was to novelize this story as produced, it would be unreadable. Without the graphics the story falls apart. This story shows no more thought and nuance than the latest Millie the Model offering. It certainly wasn’t any better written or plotted than the Rawhide Kid stories that Stan and Kirby were doing. In fact, it was worse. The Rawhide Kid stories made sense! When showing how skilled the Kid was at shooting, the Kid didn’t shoot his own horse, unlike Johnny melting his own car, instead of opening the door and stepping out first.
Whoever had the genesis for the title is lost in time, but the result was a hit. Stan immediately started getting mail about the new book. The kids loved it. Many complimenting it for the bickering and family feel to the group. The plot holes didn’t matter a bit. This initial response ignited perhaps Stan Lee’s greatest talent, that of huckstering. By the third issue-even before all the early sales results were in, Stan had a cover blurb boldly announce that The Fantastic Four was the “Greatest comic magazine in the world” What chutzpah! Stan might have been shoveling manure, but he was correct. The improvement in each issue was astonishing; Stan’s writing got tighter, the plots more coherent and the characters more complex and inviting. Jack’s art amazed with each creation, whether it be shift shaping Skrulls, or the Miracle Man’s astounding feats of magic. Mr. Fantastic’s stretching ability evolved to an amazing degree, besides simple stretching his whole body could become pliable and form odd shapes like a tire or key. While the Torch’s flames continued to adapt and diversify in ability. The Thing got stronger and more melancholy due to his inability to become human. Even his skin evolved into a more formed exterior. Sue became more matronly and protective of her brood. And her powers expanded as she learned to control them.
The second issue features an invading alien force, The Skrulls are shape shifters. A small pre-invasion force is sent to Earth to do away with the Fantastic Four by imitating them in the act of committing crimes. Falsely accused the FF are arrested. They do escape and track down the aliens. Reversing tactics, the FF now imitate the Skrulls and convince that Invasion force that they face imminent death because Earth is protected by huge, horrible, hulking monsters. Reed shows them pictures cut from Atlas monster comics to scare them away. Jack’s old bluff gambit to scare away aliens bent on domination. Once again we see a plot with huge holes, and the Thing quick to anger and Reed sulking from self-pity for failing to protect them from the Cosmic rays. This issue also shows the Thing reverting back to his human form, and then sadly back to the Thing, a particularly poignant plot element that would be reused time and again.
No more logical than before
Issue #3 has a typical Kirby style hypnotist taking on the team. Not much of a story but the issue does show Sue designing workable costumes for a unified team look. The best thing is that Jack got Sue Storm out of her matronly dresses and into a form fitting outfit. Jack says it was in response to the reader requests. “You’ve got to think of sales, not only of good stories.” This was the issue Stan proclaimed that the FF was “The greatest comic magazine in the world” This was also the issue where Stan first presented a letter page, thus communicating directly with the new fans. Most of the letters are very positive, but Stan does throw in one negative missive from Bill Sarill. “Just finished reading Fantastic Four and must admit to being disappointed. I expect better things from the team of Lee and Kirby. Jack is capable of better art work, and the Thing ought to revert to human form at will as his teammates do. The story also suffers from “Creeping Monsterism” to paraphrase Jean Shepard that has dominated most, if not all your comics for some time.” Bill Sarill would become famous later for his techniques in restoring old pulp magazines and comics that had deteriorated over time. Others disagreed. “I think the Fantastic Four will become a great success. The Thing and Torch are very new and different. I would also like to know what the name of your artist is.” from Alan Weiss. Alan Weiss would go on to become a professional comic artist and work for Marvel. What is important is that Stan proudly listed Jack Kirby’s name on the splash page of every issue, along with his own name of course. Listing credit wasn’t new, but it had gone out of fashion during the 50’s. It was with this issue that Marvel began the new .12 cent price point.
My favorite scene, Mr. Fantastic super-hero hit with a brick
If the Human Torch was a reboot of an earlier Timely character than issue #4 would go one better, and reintroduce an actual Golden Age Timely character. The return of the Submariner in issue #4 connected the new characters with everything that had gone on before the FF came to be. The Submariner was an amnesiac living in a flop house in the Bowery, a low life section of New York (yes Central City had morphed into New York) and soon to be the temporary residence of the Torch after he had quit the team in disgust at the end of issue #3. When Johnny uncovers the bums’ real identity he shocks the Submariner back to reality by throwing him into the ocean. One might question why the Submariner’s memory hadn’t returned while taking a bath or shower or a nice swim in a pool, but such were the plot holes in early FF’s. Unfortunately the Submariner is no nicer than he was in the war years when he and the original Torch would battle endlessly. When the Submariner sees the destruction that mankind has done to the oceans and his lost people he vows renewed vengeance and once again attacks the surface people. The Torch is forced to rejoin with the group in order to fight the threat, and the Thing saves the day when he destroys a giant monster called up from the depths by Subby. He provides a particularly nice scene with the Thing carrying a nuclear bomb on his back. Another interesting subplot is that the Submariner falls for Sue in a big way. This underlying love triangle would last for many issues.
Looky at what I caught
In issue #5, Jack introduced a villain who would become an archvillain for all time, right up there with the Red Skull. Dr. Doom was a twisted genius whom had attended college with Reed Richards. But his talent was warped with a base fascination in the occult, and the nether world. One day while doing an experiment, something goes wrong and an explosion occurs. While he lives, Dr. Doom is disfigured, and worse expelled from school. He then heads off to Tibet to seek more forbidden secrets. Dr. Doom has now returned, cloaked in medieval garb and an iron mask hiding his ravaged face. He kidnaps Sue Storm in order to force the FF to help him retrieve an artifact lost in time. Doom wants Blackbeard the Pirates’ treasure and he has invented a time machine to send the FF back in time to get it. While back in time the FF don less conspicuous clothing and are shanghaied and taken to a ship. There they easily overtake the crew and set out to find Blackbeard’s ship. Once they find it they quickly defeat the pirate crew and take it over. There they find the treasure. After a brief fling where Ben forgets himself, they are returned to modern day and confront Dr. Doom. It turns out that the treasure contains some jewels that belonged to Merlin the magician and contain mystic powers to make the owner invincible. Very similar to the Challenger’s first adventure where they are hired to unravel a puzzling box that the Sorcerer Morelian knows hides a mystic stone that promises immortality. Thanks to Sue’s quick thinking the FF defeat Dr. Doom, but he does escape by the use of a hidden rocket harness.
Sue saves the day
Issue #9 would see the return of one of Jack’s more popular themes, the movie production where the heroes are meant to die, only this time the villainous producer is the Submariner. There is also a sub plot about the FF being broke and needing money and turning to Hollywood to make a quick buck. #10 would feature another old S&K bit when Jack and Stan become part of the storyline. The inking which had been uneven really steadied when Dick Ayers took it over in issue #6.
In issue #13, John Kennedy’s dream is finally achieved and long before the end of the 60’s. The FF go to the moon, battle with Commies and super apes, and find a quietly powerful being living there. The Watcher is Kirby’s first and best example of a Kirby icon, the passionless observer, (similar in nature to the Jewish Watchers- angels tasked to watch over humanity) whose job is to observe and record, but not to interfere. The Watcher becomes a very important part of the FF’s extended family.
These continuing plot elements and connected issues, and full issue storylines were a big draw to those kids used to 3 stand alone stories from the competitors–which Stan good naturedly called Brand Ecch!!! The plot holes continued, and no error, such as the Torch having two left hands on a cover went unnoticed, but instead of worrying, Stan made them into a rally card when he began offering “No-prizes” for the best explanation for those muffs. After FF#1 was issued Roy Thomas, an editor of a fanzine named Alter Ego reviewed the mag. He was not overwhelmed; he thought Lee and Kirby could do better. But by issue #5 Roy writes a letter to the editor. “FF#3 was excellent! The feud angle made it all the better though, particularly the ending. The continuity in FF is all that could be asked. I’ve just subscribed to FF for two years—I hope it runs much longer than that.” Each month more and more converts were buying the book. It was a smash, Kirby had worked his magic once again, and this time with a new partner.
The audience of comic readers had changed by the early 60’s, perhaps due to the Wertham crisis. It had become an older, more mature audience, after losing a few years recruits during the cultural debates. It was also a smaller audience. Even long time staples like Superman and Donald Duck were losing readers. The smaller audience had developed a clannish feel. EC comics had fed into that fannish base when they formed a club and started direct communications with the fans. It had died down with the demise of EC, but small little groups continued and some even formed clubs and began printing booklets talking about their obsessions. The first may have been Dick Lupoff’s Xero #1 in September 1960. This was more sci-fi based but did feature articles on Golden Age comics. In March 1961, Roy Thomas and Jerry Bails started Alter Ego.
Alter Ego #1 Roy Thomas’ unique pencils – Xero #9 led to All in Color for a Dime
This was much more focused on comic books. It was in this pamphlet that Roy Thomas printed his lukewarm review of Fantastic Four #1. Soon after, Don and Maggie Thompson started Comic Art. While just a small portion of the comic buying audience, they continually communicated with the editors, they had a sway over the editors much larger than imagined. Stan Lee was well aware of them and played up to them. In the first letters page, he notes. “We’ve just noticed something…unlike many other collections of letters in different mags, our fans all seem to write well, and intelligently. We assume this denotes that our readers are a cut above average, and that’s the way we like ‘em.” The letters columns are full of letters from early fanzine members. The aforementioned Roy Thomas, Bill Sarill, Ron Foss, G.B.Love, Paul Gambancini and many others communicated constantly with Stan Lee. Future pros like Dave Cockrum, Alan Weiss, Steve Gerber, and again Roy Thomas were early fans inspired by Stan’s snake oil salesmanship. The fanzines had started an awards program named the Alley Awards, after the early comic strip, Alley Oop. The first few years’ winners were all DC stalwarts, and very super-hero centric, to the point of ignoring all other genres. In 1961 for example, the winner for best book was Justice League of America, and best artist was Carmine Infantino. What wasn’t mentioned was that the results were based on fewer than 200 ballots. By 1963, Marvel had completely turned the balloting on its head. Best comic award went to Spider-Man, top group went to the FF, best editor and writer was Stan Lee, but Carmine Infantino still maintained his death grip on top artist. Whenever Marvel won an award, Stan was quick to publicize it.
To further play to this captive audience, Stan started an in-house club called the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Stan became the ultimate carnival barker. Stan’s letter columns and editorial box was a major part of connecting directly with the reader and making him or her feel like a close family. Stan described the editor and artists as a small tight knit group of happy guys living the Marvel life. The bullpen, as Stan referred to them was led by Uncle Stan, and the artists all had funny monikers like Darlin’ Dick, and King Kirby; they even produced a record that went out to club members where the artists (except for the reclusive Ditko) talked to the listener and joked about Stan. The reality was somewhat different. Kirby recalls the early years at Atlas as a time of desperation; “No, there wasn’t a sense of excitement. It was a horrible, morbid atmosphere. If you can find excitement in that kind of atmosphere—the excitement of fear. The excitement of ”What to do next?” ….It was desperation, but it was a creative desperation because that’s when a man really begins to think hard.”
The whole point was to make Marvel feel like an exclusive, but small, privileged and desirable country club. Nothing appeals to youngsters like being part of an in-club, and nothing was more “in” than Make Mine Marvel!!! Stan was sophisticated and cuddly at the same time. Stan even used the exclamation “Excelsior” from the beat humorist Jean Shepeard as his sign-off. Stan became an irresistible force, and the readers his obedient followers. Unfortunately his bombast which started as we, we, we, soon seemed to become I,I,I. as Stan’s soapboxes morphed into little advertisements for the greatness and majesty of one Stan Lee. Stan Lee went from cheerleader to public face and focal point of all that was good about Marvel.
Success breeds success, and if a comic company has a hit, than they will spawn more of the same. So it has always been. Martin Goodman was happy with the sales figures of the FF and asked for another title. And just as before Stan called in Kirby and they brainstormed. The character getting the most response was the gruesome Thing, so they figured another monster might work. Just a month earlier Kirby had done a Dr. Jekyll -Mister Hyde take off for one of the fantasy titles. “The Midnight Monster” appeared in all his transformative horror in Journey Into Mystery #79. This character drank a serum and transformed from a mild mannered chap into a raging monster. The transformation changed him from a normal looking man into a Frankensteinish monster. Kirby had also used this visual on an earlier Black Magic cover. “I did a story… a small feature, and it was quite different from the Hulk we know. But I felt that the Hulk had possibilities, and I took this little character from the small feature and I transformed it into the Hulk that we know today.” “Of course I was experimenting with it, I thought the Hulk might be a good-looking Frankenstein. This idea seemed to click and with further evolution the result was the Hulk–a name that Stan Lee had used repeatedly on the monster characters. Once again radiation would be the trigger for the transformation. The hero was Dr. Bruce Banner, a scientist overseeing a Gamma Ray experiment for the government. Just before the blast, Dr. Banner sees a teenager driving around the blast zone. He rushes out and throws the lad into a trench just as the blast goes off. Dr. Banner is struck full force by the blast, but survives. This bit with the boy in a blast zone was actually borrowed from a Sky Masters episode where young Danny Martin wanders into the blast area of a missile test. Sky Masters sees him and rushes out and rescues him by throwing him into a ditch.
No wonder the first Hulk is gray – again with the fingers 3 or 4
Later at night, Dr Banner goes through a horrible transformation as he becomes a huge mindless beast and goes on a rampage. The only person who can calm him down is the young lad he saved-Rick Jones. He looks like a slightly handsomized version of the Frankenstein Monster, only gray (soon to be green in the next issue) and bulky. The Hulk becomes a hunted beast but he has a habit of destroying bad guys and Commie villains by accident. Another borrowed gimmick is when the Hulk is wounded by gunfire, and when he transforms back into Dr. Banner he is still wounded. This was taken from a story in The Adventures of the Fly #1 from a few years earlier. The Hulk would be a troubled series early on as the creators could never get a handle on the character. Should he be smart or mindless? Transform at night or when angry? Be a force for good or evil?
Neal lived for these special days watching his dad pull his tricks out of his bag. Neal loved sci-fi too, and shared jacks books ideas. “Our time together was full of moments like this. The early 1960s was the era of atomic monsters and bomb fear, so along comes the Hulk. To Dad, the science of the man-monster was in the realm of “maybe.” Could a Jekyll-and-Hyde monster be created genetically? Jack Kirby thought so. Remember, the structure of DNA had been discovered only five years earlier, and the workings were still a mystery.
The cover inker is a mystery; most credit Paul Reinman, some say George Roussos, but Nick Caputo, who I consider in the cream of Kirby researchers has a different, but knowledgeable idea. “…the sparse quality, including the way clothing is inked on Dr. Banner, the lack of detail on the Hulk’s feet and the singular way the face is inked point to Kirby. There is none of the heavy brushwork of Roussos, or the finer line of Paul Reinman. Ayers also would have had thicker brushwork, so I submit this important cover to be inkd by none other than Jack Kirby.” Nick does not come to this conclusion easily. He has been busy comparing inking styles for many years and has published a much longer list of possible Kirby self-inked Marvel covers @ http://nick-caputo.blogspot.com/2011/09/kirby-inking-kirby.html
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought the Incredible Hulk to life in the early 60’s, their vision for this character was that of a muscle-bound giant with deathly grey skin.
As the comics came off the press however, it soon became apparent that getting just the right shade of grey was difficult. Sometimes the Hulk came out looking pale and dull, like dishwater, at other times he was almost black. With the 2nd issue, it was decided that the Hulk would become an easy to reproduce shade of green.
Third times a charm – count the Hulk’s fingers and toes
One thing that never changed is that he was hunted by the government, in the form of General Thunderbolt Ross–a hard as nails military type and father to Betty Ross, the love interest of Dr. Banner. This was a love triangle doomed to failure. The Hulk’s antagonists were typical Kirby villains. Aliens bent on domination, Commie warlords, and rulers of underworld civilizations. They even formed a kid gang to help out the Hulk. But nothing could really help the Hulk, after 6 issues he was cancelled. But the Hulk didn’t simply disappear, he was next seen in Fantastic Four #12 in what was the first crossover in the now Marvel Universe. Two heroes from different books interacting wasn’t new, but Marvel hadn’t done it before and now made it part of the continuity of both characters, and a basic trait of the new books. The same month had the Fantastic Four visited by Spider-Man. The Hulk was a founding member of the Avengers, yet he is gone by issue #3. After that, the Hulk would take residence in Tales to Astonish and share it with Gi(ant)-Man. The Hulk also was centrally figured in the first issues of The Avengers as an unstable force that eventually had to be ousted. His place in the Marvel pantheon, and his legendary brutish strength, were secured in memorable mano-a-mano slap downs with the Thing in FF #25 (Apr. 1964) and with the Mighty Thor in Journey Into Mystery #112, (Jan. 1965)
Two heroes are better than one – in yo’ face highpockets
The Roy Huggins influence was both in the tenor and structure of the stories, and also in the physical depictions of the new characters. Johnny Storm seemed to be modeled after Troy Donahue, the teen idol first seen in Surfside 6 and later in Hawaiian Eye. His sister Sue “Invisible Girl” Storm was the spitting image of the perky bubble headed Connie Stevens, Cricket Blake from Hawaiian Eye. Though Jack said that he modeled Reed Richards after Michael Rennie (of Day The Earth Stood Still fame) he actually looked more like Jack Kelly of Maverick. In the Hulk, the hip, jive talking, hot rodder Rick Jones is an obvious homage to Edd “Kookie” Burns, the ginchiest valet ever to work the Sunset Strip. The borrowed elements such as the family type group, the bickering, the shared universe and the soap opera style continuity that the new comic fans rallied to in the Fantastic Four were the exact aspects that made the Warner Bros shows so popular. Just as Orr and Huggins energized and revolutionized the 50’s television genre, Lee and Kirby re-energised and revolutionized the 60’s comic book universe.
Late ’62 found the Beatles at a critical point. Their local fame was growing, but their new manager, Brian Epstein had bigger plans. The first step was to replace Pete Best as drummer. The new member was Ringo Starr, a local itinerant drummer fresh from another band. The group was now set but at a small price. Pete Best was a very popular member and had many personal fans. The outcry was immediate and alarming. More important, Epstein had leased time at Abbey Road Studios and the boy set about recording their own music in earnest. On October 5, Love Me Do is released and on Oct 16, they made their first TV appearance on a small local teen show People and Places. Pre-filmed in the Cavern on August 22, the show’s producer, Johnny Hamp had this to say: “I first saw the Beatles in a club in Hamburg. They were very scruffy characters – but they had a beat in their music which I liked…I got into a lot of trouble over it. Everyone said they were too rough, too untidy. But I liked them. I put them on again and again.”
In with the new out with the old
On Feb. 4, 1963 Love Me Do is released in Canada, the first official Beatles release in North America. Paul White, then Capitol Canada record executive, explained why he decided to release the Beatles first single: “I used to listen to about fifty new records a week. Then one day I put on “Love Me Do” by a group called the Beatles. I immediately sat up and took notice. The sound was so different, so completely fresh. “I’m certainly not going to claim that I could read the future and already knew how big the Beatles were going to be, but I did like them a lot and wanted Capitol of Canada to get in on the ground floor. I decided to release Beatles’ records in Canada”. The Beatles were about to revolutionize rock and roll.
Stan Lee appears on NY Radio to talk about his new creations. He is praised for adding a freshness and energy back to the comic genre. Stan becomes the go to guy.
Even before any numbers came in from The Hulk, Stan Lee asked Jack if he had any more characters that they could use. And in quick order, Kirby supplied three new ideas. The first was Thor, a remake of a mythological character that Kirby used in a DC fantasy book, and a theme Kirby reused ever since 1940. Thor was the mythical God of thunder who had lost his hammer, a mystical hammer that transformed the finder into the God of Thunder. Donald Blake is a lame American doctor on vacation in the Norway. He accidentally stumbles upon an invasion by rock men from Saturn bent on domination. While fleeing them he hides in a cave and stumbles across an old cane. When he takes the cane and taps in on a rock he is magically transformed into the all-powerful God of Thunder. With his new hammer and great strength, he confronts the Saturn people and defeats them in battle. Worried about being found, Thor stamps the hammer on the ground and once more becomes the lame doctor. Typical Kirby hero and typical Kirby monsters and plot, but the art was amazing. No one could do mythic like Kirby. His costume for Thor is possibly the best he ever did. And the whirling hammer provided more action and drama per page than ever before. Thor started out fairly generic story wise but quickly changed when the stories began adding other mythical characters like Odin, Loki (the arch villain) Balder and Heimdal. His son gives eyewitness testimony; “In the spring of 1962, for instance, I remember standing over the drawing board as Dad created a truly cosmic hero — it was a brand new character but I was confused when I heard his name. Thor? The story was “The Stone Men from Saturn.” My first reaction, before opening my mouth, was “Why the hell is a Norse god fighting rock-pile aliens?” Dad explained the whole origin story to me and how he would work in the entire pantheon of Norse deities in the future.” This mix of modern day and ancient mythology was intoxicating. Thor first appeared in issue #83 of the fantasy anthology book Journey into Mystery.
Jack loved the Thor covers – Chic Stone inks a pin-up
The next character was an update of a story from one of the fantasy titles; much like the Hulk, the scientist and concept starts out in a fantasy book. A scientist named Henry Pym discovers a serum that shrinks him down to the size of an ant. Similar to the movie The Shrinking Man, the scientist encounters great hazards from normal items. Other insects hassle him until he befriends one lone ant. While running from maddened ants, the scientist, with the aid of the friendly ant reach his lab and an enlarging serum that returns him to normal height. For the super-hero update Henry Pym dons a costume complete with a cybernetic helmet that allowed him to communicate with insects, and uses the shrinking serum and his new army of insects to fight crime. The first case is against a typical Commie spy trying to steal secrets from a gov’t project that Henry Pym is working on. The Ant Man’s powers are limited and his foes tended towards spies and petty crooks, and the occasional crazed insect. The series and character never made a big splash, but his strip lasted for quite a while as an ongoing tale in the anthology series Tales to Astonish. The premise did allow Kirby to draw some amazing extreme perspective angles that highlighted the size differentials. In time they modified the serum to allow Henry (Hank) to enlarge as well as shrink and at that time he became known as Giant Man. He took on a female partner called the Wasp, and joined the Avengers.
Pre-super hero not so brave – weak villains but a neat cannon – great extreme perspectives
The next book has a unique history: one that will be dealt with in another chapter. Suffice it to say that when Kirby didn’t have the time, Spider-Man, based on the old S&K premise was turned over to the proposed inker Steve Ditko to flesh out. He appeared in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy, the title that evolved from Amazing Adventures, and immediately disappeared. Jack provided the cover. Another character, Iron Man was shelved for a while. Thor, Ant-Man and Spider-man all appeared the same month.
Ant-Man gets a suit – Ant-Man gets a partner the Wasp
Kirby covers – It was a very good month
A few months later, the Human Torch was given his own series in the fantasy title Strange Tales. Often guest starring the other FF members, this series is remembered most fondly for introducing a string of forgettably inept villains, like Paste Pot Pete, Plantman, Asbestos Man, and Living Bomb. Most of the writing was by Larry Lieber and Robert Bernstein. It showed. Strange paradoxes, such as the Human Torch, long known as Johnny Storm takes on a secret identity. This is never explained and ended just as quickly.
Some good covers but lousy villains
Both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were stretched to the limit. Neither could do all the work on the new titles. Steve Ditko did the artwork on the last issue of the Hulk. Stan turned the writing on Thor, Human Torch and Ant Man over to his brother Larry Lieber, and Robert Bernstein. Robert Bernstein was a long time comic writer, mostly at DC, he was a neighbor of Kirby’s. Bernstein said that he would often time his trips into the city to match up with Jack’s. He would sit next to Jack and pump him for characters and plot lines that he could use for his stories. After a few introductory issues, the art on Thor was given to artists like Al Hartley and Joe Sinnott. Ant Man was given to Don Heck. But it seems that whenever a new important character was introduced, Jack was brought back to pencil. Jack returns to Ant Man to introduce the Wasp, and the first appearance of Giant-Man. On Thor, Jack returned for the introduction of the Radioactive Man. Many of the plots, even when Jack didn’t draw them were by Kirby. They reprise stories from his DC fantasy days.
In late 1962, Lee and Kirby rebooted another old Atlas western hero. The Two-Gun Kid returned in issue #60 totally updated by Kirby with a new alter ego, Matt Hawk. The premise seems to have been borrowed from the popular film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This series played more like a super-hero title than a straight western saga. Jack stayed with this character for 3 issues and then turned it over to Dick Ayers.
Also in late 1962 Iron Man was taken off the shelf. No one knows why it had been shelved but the concept was turned over to Don Heck to pencil. Iron Man was basically a huge metallic shell with a man inside working the controls. It should be noted that in one of the final Challengers issues, Prof Haley incapacitates a sentient robot and climbs in and takes over control of the metallic shell. He is jokingly called “tin man” by the others.
Don Heck was chosen to draw Iron Man. This was also at the time that Jack was incapable of drawing more characters. Don recalls with horror being told he was to do Iron Man, until he was told that Jack Kirby had already plotted the story and laid out the cover. Don was ecstatic, he recalls that “the main reason the super-heroes existed was because of Jack Kirby.”
To continue Stan’s heroes with problems schtick, the man inside the machine, Tony Stark, was forced to wear it or die from shrapnel too near his heart. He was a prisoner of his suit. The basic plot is taken from a Green Arrow story that Jack worked on about an American weapons expert captured by a Southeast Communist army and forced to manufacture a weapon to defeat the American naval presence off the coast. The American agrees to help but secretly creates a weapon he can turn on the enemy; in Iron Man’s case an armored suit with high tech weapons and an invulnerable skin, worn by the injured armorer, trapped behind the lines in Viet Nam. Stan Lee constantly claimed that Iron Man’s power came from miniaturize transistors, never understanding that transistors are not a power source, but the kids didn’t care, it was a neat catch phrase.
It should be mentioned that Iron Man was a good reflection of what was happening with technology in the real world. The transistor was invented in the post-war 40’s by Bell Labs. But it wasn’t until 1958 that inventor Jack Kilby came up with the “integrated circuit” that the computer age became personal. It took till 1959 for Texas Instruments to make it usable. With the new integrated circuit, computers and electrics could be made small enough for the individual to use. The next major leap occurred when Texas Instruments perfected the silicone wafer that was easier to produce, and a wider range of uses. Military transistor use in such items as walkie talkies began in the late ‘50’s. In the early 1960s the first electronic integrated circuits were developed and manufactured in the U.S.A. Although initially incorporating just a few transistors and other components, due to the reduction in the size of the circuit boards required they immediately saw use in hardware for the military and the “space race” with the U.S.S.R. Chips were also developed for use in the mainframe computers of the time where they gave increased functionality. For the public these first showed up in small transistor radios, and personal calculators. In 1962 American manufacturers dropped prices of the new transistor radios to as low as $15. The science magazines promised a future full of small personal gadgets for personal use.
Don Heck used the Kirby proposal together with the reduced size and cost. As for the cover; Don Heck tried to explain some of the confusion;
“I did the first Iron Man story. They have it listed that Jack Kirby did the breakdowns, but that’s not true. I did it all. They just didn’t bother to call me up and find out when they wrote up the credits. It doesn’t really matter. Jack Kirby created the costume, and he did the cover for the issue.”
The use of Communist aggressors was prescient. While this story is being produced, the most urgent crisis of modern time was occurring between the U.S., Soviet Union and Cuba. In October 1962, in retaliation to the U.S. missiles in East Europe, the Soviet Union began sending missiles to Cuba. The U.S. threatens to invade Cuba and destroy the missiles. The U.S. and the Soviets went eyeball to eyeball for three days until the Soviets blinked and a negotiated settlement was worked out. The crisis would be the low point of the cold war with the closest the two powers would come to direct conflict. The perceived win sealed JFK’s legacy. Marvel would use the Commies as enemies in all their new series. Stan Lee says he based the personality of Tony Stark on the wealthy industrialist Howard Hughes. The story appeared in the March issue of Tales of Suspense #39.
Jungle crude – sleeked up in the home front
Kirby drew some stories and almost all the covers. Curiously, Don Heck says that on Iron Man the covers were drawn first and Kirby designed the costumes for most of the villains. No other Marvel artist has ever said the covers were done first. The original iron suit was a clunky plain mono-colored suit reminiscent of deep water diving gear, but consistent with what a creator might make with the limited access to hi-tech machinery in a forced labor camp. After a dozen or so issues, Steve Ditko redesigned the suit into a modern sleek colorful suit that looked great. Shell head, as he was commonly called, was a long running member in the fantasy title Tales of Suspense, plus The Avengers.
By early 1963, the Viet Nam War was heating up and probably in response to DC’s Sgt Rock series, Martin Goodman asked for a new war comic. Stan, feeling his oats says that his new formula would work on any genre and contacted Jack Kirby. A few years earlier during the monster days Jack Kirby had run into John Severin, his old friend from the Prize years.
Jack was still pushing ideas for newspaper strips and he asked John if he wanted to collaborate on a war based newspaper strip. Severin explained; “The story would be set in Europe during World War 2; the hero would be a tough, cigar smoking Sergeant with a squad of oddball G.I.s-sort of an adult Boy Commandos.” Now Jack, never one to forget a project told Stan about the premise, and sure enough Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos became the new series. The formula continued; Kirby supplied the premise, and Lee added in characterization. Sgt. Fury expanded upon Jack’s group template, yes it had the stoic hero, the brawny Irish second in command, a hot head, and a Jewish mechanical wizard, but it also had a black bugle player, an Italian lothario, a Southern good ole boy, and a stiff upper lipped officious Brit. Black characters were so rare that the colorist mis-understood on the first issue and made Gabe Jones pink! Perhaps he knew there were no integrated units in WW2. Though their tales were as outlandish as the Boy Commandos, they also had a serious side where reality could intrude by way of occasional death in the field of battle. Kirby’s battle scenes were as electric as the ones he drew for Foxhole. The stories had a breadth not seen in the other Marvel series. They dealt with serious topics like racism, and cowardice, and camaraderie in the face of death. The Nazis were as mean in Sgt. Fury as they had been in the wartime books, and took their job seriously. These were no buffoon Nazis-no Colonel Klink and Sgt Schultz, these were the real deal. The predicaments that the Commandos found themselves might be humorous, but never the enemy. When relating war stories Jack was quick to tell everyone that the Nazis, especially the SS, were professional in every way, they were not to be toyed with. Kirby says that several tales and elements were loosely based on his experiences in Europe, perhaps none more than the depiction of war torn Britain.
For his part, Stan had enlisted in WW2, but he never saw combat as he was stateside writing training films. Stan’s dialogue on Sgt. Fury may have been his most evocative and sympathetic. Stripped of the bluster needed on super-heroes, Stan captured the tone and frailty of real humans. The forced humor in the heat of battle, the braggadocio needed to hide the fear of death, and the true patriotic fervor found among the vets were all dealt with by Stan in a manner opposite the heavy-handedness of the hero titles. The emotions were real, and the feelings were well captioned. The Howlers were fully developed individuals.
Kirby always found ways to get them on the same page.
Fury’s love affair with the veddy British Pamela Hawley was particularly well done, never forced or unduly melodramatic, even when she loses a family member. This series was also a hit, lasting many years. Dick Ayers took over fairly quickly.
People died, and life went on.
Flo Steinberg tells of a chilling coincidence between Kirby’s Captain America experiences during WW2 and Sgt. Fury. It seems that not everyone was thrilled with the jingoistic anti-Nazi nature of Sgt. Fury, and one person sent a letter to the bullpen threatening to kill them. It turned out to be nothing, but the FBI was called in. Shades of Simon and Kirby!
After a short hiatus, Spider-man returned in his own title. Kirby did the cover for that also. It seems that Ditko was another artist who flourished with the freedom to plot and pace his own stories. He took to the Marvel Method with ease. Steve Ditko was doing wonders with Spidey. The first issue was boosted by guest stars the Fantastic Four. Stan was having a blast intermingling the new characters and storylines. But Ditko was also creating another character. Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme was everything Dr. Droom wasn’t. Though sharing a common origin gimmick, (dying Tibetan mystic passing on his secrets to an American doctor to continue the fight against evil mystics) the new Dr. actually fought beings of the occult and figments of the human psyche. His battles took him to unknown dimensions, and into battle with Nightmare, and other psychic entities. Ditko’s talent for rendering strange dimensions and unreal vistas bordered on the surreal. They had never been so extraordinarily rendered before, or since. Many readers mistook him for one of the new breed of artist using mind expanding drugs for inspiration. Nothing could be further than the truth. Steve was as grounded in reality as the next person, maybe more. Drugs were anathema to him. Sales were never great on this feature.