True Story, Grace Will Bear Me Out: Jack Kirby

It has been my pleasure & privilege to have met & known & on a few special occasions work with some of the greatest creative talents in pop culture.  It has been an even rarer & greater pleasure & privilege to have been able to count some of them as my friends.  This is a story of one of those occasions. Mark Evanier has posted a wonderful remembrance of joltin' Jack Kirby on his blog in honor of the 94th anniversary of Jack's birth.

As Mark observes:  "If Jack Kirby isn't your favorite comic book artist, he's probably your favorite comic book artist's favorite comic book artist."

I discovered Jack Kirby & Marvel comics the same summer I discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland (and Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents).  A kid in our cabin at summer camp had brought along a trunk full of Marvel & other comics as well as plenty of Forry Ackerman's FM.

To be frank, I was a little put off by Jack's style at first.  I was used to the more sedate goofiness of DC's Superman & Batman comics; Jack's work was ten times as crazy but unlike DC, he was dead serious!

No camp here; no, sir.  Jack drew every line with the utmost of conviction.

It took a while to fully appreciate what he was doing, and by the time I fully grasped what he was going for, he had long since left the den of thieves house of Marvel and gone on to work his wonders at DC, then doing development work for animated shows.

It was in that context that I met him.

I was working at Ruby-Spears Productions with Steve Gerber (another great guy & a great creator who deserves his own post; soon, soon...).  They had just sold a series called THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN and now the time had come to actually develop scripts & art for the show.

Steve told Joe he could recommend some comic book artists to help give the show a more dynamic feel than standard Saturday morning fare.  What he didn't mention to me was who these artists would be.

We had a production meeting; I came into the conference room early.  There was a little old man sitting there, talking to John Dorman (the head story board artist for the series).  I liked the old guy almost immediately:  He was the only person I've ever met whom I could say his eyes literally twinkled.

We started talking about the show, kicking around ideas before the meeting actually got started.  Steve and Joe and the rest of the writing team came in and, since I was already there & chatting with the old guy, everybody assumed we'd been introduced.  The meeting started without further fanfare.

As we kicked ideas around, I was astonished at the imagination the old guy was showing.  Joe and Steve would throw out ideas, the rest of us would kick them around & play with them, then he would casually say something and boot that particular concept right into orbit.

And he did this again and again and again, "plussing" every idea thrown out there, turning it around & inside out & making it better...

...and never taking credit for it.

Quite the contrary:  He was unfailingly self-depreciating, always deferring to others, and shrugging off praise for his ideas & concepts with a sheepish grin.

It was a great meeting, one of the best & most creative ones I've ever been involved in, and when it ended the old guy left with his wife (who had to drive him everywhere since he was turning ideas over so much in his mind he would get distracted in traffic) to start working on the ideas we had discussed.

I remember thinking at the time how glad I was somebody with his imagination would be working on the series; not only that, but I was particularly happy how well we had hit it off.

He was, as they say in the biz, a good guy to have in the fox hole.

After he left, I drifted over to Steve's office & commented on how much I liked the old guy.  "But who is he?" I asked.  "Nobody introduced us."

"That was Jack Kirby," Steve said.

"That was Jack Kirby?" -- no, wait, that's not the way I said it.  What I said was:

"THAT WAS JACK KIRBY ?!?!?"

To say I was floored would have been an understatement.  If I had known it was Jack, my contribution to the meeting would have been along the lines of "Homida-homida-homida..."

If you know Jack's career, you know I'm talking about one of -- if not the -- most important people in the history of comics.  He and his then-partner Joe Simon created comics:  Oodles & oodles & oodles of comics.  Name a genre, Simon & Kirby were usually there first:  True crime, romance, kid adventure.  They didn't create superhero comics, but boy, they sure did 'em better than everybody else combined.

And by the 50s, when comics were fading fast in the face of TV & censorship, when the team of Simon & Kirby had to split up & go their separate ways in order to eke out livings for their families, Jack drifted over to one of the bottom feeder companies.  There he cranked out weird monster stories until the early 1960s when the company decided to ape the success of their rival DC's re-introduction of The Flash.  Together with his young editor, Stan Lee, Jack came up with Thor, and the X-Men, and the Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic 4, and...and...and...

Well, no need to go on; you get my point.

It was great working with Jack and Steve and John and all the other wonderful writers and artists on THUNDARR.  It was great working with him on other shows and projects.  The first comics I ever wrote professionally were drawn by Jack (and my career has been going downhill ever since >rimshot<).  I came to know & love Jack and his wonderful wife Roz & am proud to count them among my friends.

You're a great guy, Mr. Kirby.  God bless you for what you gave us.

...And Now A Word From James Cagney

Another Eminent Theologian On Hell