Who did what on the Lee-Kirby collaborations?
Ooh...tough one to start with. Well, it's safe to say Jack
did all the pencilling. Beyond that, we run into all sorts of semantic
arguments having to do with definitions of the word "writing" and with the
fact that Mssrs. Lee and Kirby both have/had notoriously poor memories.
You also have the fact that, when two creative talents get together and come
up with an idea, each of them might honestly believe that he suggested at
least the core of the concept if not the entire thing. This happens in
any collaboration anywhere and, ultimately, you usually have to just say that
they both had the idea. Ergo, I say that the Lee-Kirby creations are
Some of the ideas sound more like Stan to me, some sound more
like Jack and there's some documentation and other evidence that suggests that
certain ideas flowed more from one gent than the other. Even then, even
where one person contributed 80% of the notion, they are still Lee-Kirby
co-creations. The plots came from both, though Stan has acknowledged
that once Marvel started to grow and he became busier, Jack was largely on his
own to figure out the details of each story, if not the basic plotline.
Stan's dialogue sometimes closely paraphrased marginal notes that Jack wrote
while drawing, and sometimes deviated altogether. I do think Stan has
been unfairly maligned by those who've said that all he did was retype and
polish Jack's notations. I also think Jack was wronged to some extent by
credits that gave him no credit for anything other than drawing because he
certainly did more than that.
Didn't Kirby contribute the cosmic concepts and Lee contribute
the human elements?
You might think that. Once upon a time, I did, as well.
But after talking extensively with both Stan and Jack, as well as some of their
co-workers...and after examining a lot of Stan Lee plot outlines and Jack Kirby
marginal notes, my conclusion is that that wasn't always the case. Stan
definitely contributed some of the more "cosmic" (for want of a better
adjective) ideas and Jack certainly contributed some of the elements we might
call "soap opera." There are specific contributions that I believe can be
attributed to one or the other, at least in that one of them was the primary
source. But, as stated above, there's a point beyond which one cannot tell
who did what.
What was Jack Kirby like?
Jack was a very sweet man with a heart as large as his imagination
— and if you read anything he ever did, you at least know how large his
imagination could be. He had a tendency to assume the best about everyone
he met and to be angry later-on when, as occasionally happened, someone turned
out to be undeserving of his trust and friendship. There were a few folks
who — in my opinion — exploited his generosity far beyond decency...in some
cases, quite without malice or even awareness of their impact on his life.
In any case, he was an enormous supporter of New Talent. If you showed
Jack your work, he would not give you an art critique — he didn't do that kind
of thing — but he would give you words of encouragement, along with pointers of
a "spiritual" sense, discussing the mindset with which you should approach your
work. And he would never, no matter how poor your work was, tell you to
Was Jack really as fast as they say?
Yes, but I think his pace gets exaggerated a bit for two reasons.
One was that Jack worked very hard. During the late sixties and seventies,
he did around fifteen pages per week of finished pencils (and, usually, script)
and before that, he was even more prolific, occasionally managing 5-6 pages a
day. Now, that is very fast — someone like Curt Swan might do two a day —
but Kirby's output was a function not just of drawing speed but of endurance and
a willingness to sit at the drawing board 10-16 hours a day. Some artists
simply couldn't put in hours like that. And the other thing that perhaps
made Jack appear faster than he was was that he did almost no planning.
This is why you see very few Kirby rough sketches around. If they called
Jack and said, "We need a cover," he would just sit down and start drawing a
cover. Some of his best work was done with that kind of instant
improvisation. But, yes, he was fast.
What was Jack's favorite kind of comic to work on?
He really didn't have one, at least in terms of subject matter.
He — of course — wanted to do comics that he felt would sell well and, at
varying intervals, he felt that the time was right for a a specific genre or
kind of story. He also — of course — wanted to do work where he felt he
was in control of the story and allowed to do his work with a minimum of
interference and (relatively) fair compensation, and he generally didn't like
doing strips that he felt were someone else's; where he was obliterating another
creator's vision by imposing his. But beyond all those caveats, he was
just as happy drawing a monster comic as a super-hero adventure; just as
contented to do a romance comic as a science-fiction or western title. In
fact, I think he took a special pride in being able to build something out of
any kind of materials.
The one genre he probably enjoyed a little less than any other
were the kind of "ghost" comics that dwell on death. On the other hand, if
he enjoyed any area a bit more than others, it would be the occasions when he
had the chance to draw tales set in World War II and to tap into his limitless
storehouse of anecdotes from his combat days. His days writing and drawing
"The Losers" for Our Fighting Forces were fun for him, marred only by the
fact that the characters were not his, nor were they characters that
particularly interested him. I also believe that late in his career, Jack
wished he'd had more opportunity to draw funny material in a broader style.
I've heard Jack modelled a lot of his characters on real
people. If so, who was Big Barda based on?
Jack based some of his characters (not all) on people in his life
or in the news...though often, the connection would be lost as the character
evolved. That is to say, once the story was done, only Jack would be able
to see any trace of the model...and sometimes, even he would lose track of how a
character came about. Nevertheless, Big Barda's roots are not in doubt.
The visual came about shortly after songstress Lainie Kazan posed for Playboy...and
the characterization between Scott "Mr. Miracle" Free and Barda was based
largely — though with tongue in cheek — on the interplay betwixt Jack and his
wife Roz. Of course, the whole "escape artist" theme was inspired by an
earlier career of writer-artist Jim Steranko.
Apart from Sandman #1 in 1974, was The Fly (1959)
the last Simon-Kirby collaboration?
The Fly was the last published work by Joe Simon and Jack
Kirby, excepting that Sandman comic and some leftover material done
before The Fly but published later. However, The Fly was not
a product of the Simon-Kirby shop in the same way comics like Black Magic
and Boys' Ranch had been. The Fly was a product of Joe Simon
who, in turn, hired Jack to do some of the artwork. (Jack claimed he did
all his work for the first two issues over one weekend. That's probably
not true but he didn't spend a lot more time than that. Some of what
appears to be Kirby in those issues and #3 and #4 is, in fact, a case of Jack's
work being imitated by someone else.)
What other comic book artists did Jack admire?
Practically all his contemporaries...but if you asked him, the
first names out of his mouth were usually Bill Everett, Wally Wood, Steve Ditko,
Joe Simon, Don Heck, Gil Kane, Gene Colan, Lou Fine, Jack Cole, Dick Briefer,
Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, John Romita, Jim Steranko, C.C. Beck, George Tuska, Joe
Shuster, Mort Meskin, Marie Severin, John Severin, Al Williamson, Dick Ayers,
Joe Maneely, Jack Davis, Sergio Aragonés and many others I'm leaving out.
He also loved most of the great newspaper strip artists, including Milton Caniff,
Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, Al Capp, Walt Kelly, Elzie Segar, Frank Robbins, Will
Gould and Roy Crane. Frankly, I can't think of too many artists of whom
Jack ever spoke in negative terms.
What kind of pencil and paper did Jack use?
Pencils were your basic #2 drawing pencil, although he sometimes
experimented with softer leads. As for paper, Marvel and DC both supplied
paper most of the time. Jack found the Marvel paper easy to draw on and
most of the DC paper impossible to draw on. He got into a friendly
argument once with Joe Kubert, who loved the DC paper. Kubert told Jack it
worked great if you pencilled in blue. Jack said he hated working in blue
pencil. Kubert said it took a brush well. Jack said, "I don't ink."
And so on. Steve Sherman and I finally bought Jack a kind of two-ply
kid-finish Bristol Board that he liked and that was fine until Mike Royer
started inking the books, and Mike had enormous problems inking on the paper.
So a lot of time was spent trying different kinds before we found one that Jack
could pencil on and Mike could ink on...and I don't recall the name of the
brand. But this explains why comic book companies usually furnish the
paper for their artists to draw on. It cuts down on arguments between
pencillers and inkers.
What were Jack's politics like?
He was a rather liberal democrat — not uncommon among Jewish folks of his generation — but he had a general suspicion of
most leaders of all stripes. He admired Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy, but not many prominent politicians of any party beyond those
two. He was especially distrustful of public figures about whom there was a "cult of personality," and he used those feelings when he wrote
about Glorious Godfrey in the Fourth World series. Godfrey was inspired by the then-current pronouncements of the Reverend Billy Graham (and a
wee bit by TV pitchman Arthur Godfrey). Mr. Graham's speeches now seem more subdued but, at the time, he was coming under criticism from all
sides for what some felt were excessive, apocalyptic speeches predicting the end of the world. Jack saw a few of Graham's fire-and-brimstone
lectures on TV and felt that the reverend was abusing his position by taking the "fear" in "fear of God" to unhealthy extremes.
And he really, really didn't like Richard Nixon.
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