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SDCC '07: ERIK LARSEN, ERIC STEPHENSON ON IMAGE'S KIRBY PLANS
by Benjamin Ong Pang Kean

Image Comics' newly remastered collection of Jack "The King" Kirby's Silver Star hit stands a couple of weeks ago.

Image also has plans to publish a completely recolored one volume graphic novel collection of Kirby's 14 issues of Captain Victory later this year.

So, what's next?

Announced at the Kirby Tribute Panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego today, Image and The Kirby Estate have entered into an agreement to produce new series based on two of Kirby's final creator-owned properties, originally published by Pacific Comics in the early 1980s.

Also in the pipeline is a collection of completed-but-unpublished Silver Star mini-series by Kurt Busiek, along with Busiek and Neil Vokes' Teen Agents mini-series.

We spoke with Publisher Erik Larsen and Executive Editor Eric Stephenson about reviving (and reliving) The King's legacy.

Newsarama: How did this new agreement to produce new series come about?

Erik Larsen: A lot of ideas start off with, "Wouldn't it be cool if..." and go on from there. Ever since Topps took on the Kirbyverse and fumbled the ball, I've wanted a crack at these characters. I've worked on Jack's characters in the past, and I've made it no secret that I'm a huge fan. And I still want to work with Jack's characters, but I feel that as the publisher of Image, I really shouldn't be doing work at any other comic book company. So rather than have me go to other companies to do Kirby characters -- we moved a few mountains to have Kirby characters come to Image. We had some conversations with Lisa Kirby. I laid out what I wanted to do and then we hammered out the details.

Eric Stephenson: This all really started last year, with our discussions about the Captain Victory and Silver Star collections. I think both Erik and I were already interested in doing new series with those characters, but we wanted to show the Kirby Estate what we could do with the reprint collections first -- we kind of wanted to prove we had what it takes. Once we got into Silver Star, though, our enthusiasm for putting together new series really jumped to the next level. We had such a blast working on Silver Star -- and there's just so much potential to continue this stuff -- it seemed like the logical next step.

NRAMA: Did the fact that Marvel's recent revival of The Eternals and DC's "big" plans for The Fourth World characters in the weekly Countdown series that's leading up to next year's eventual blockbuster and possibly earth... universe-shattering event have anything to do with Image's interest in two of The King's last creator-owned properties? Did the timing just seem... right at this point in time?

EL: I've been a Kirby fan forever. Once I took over as publisher, I made it a priority to bring Jack Kirby over to Image. It took a little longer to sort out than I would have liked, but I'm pleased it's all coming together.

ES: Jack Kirby has always been a huge source of inspiration for Image Comics. Erik can correct me if I'm wrong, but when Image was first getting off the ground, one of the guys suggested putting "Jack Kirby Presents" on all the books.

EL: Yeah, that did come up and we talked about it. It was kind of, "Hey, instead of '"Stan Lee Presents..." let's have our books say "Jack Kirby Presents..."" At the end of the day, however--it just seemed too weird. I mean--Jack created much of the Marvel Universe and his name legitimately deserves to be there right next to Stan's name but at Image he'd be presenting a line of books that he had no hand in creating and I think that while we all felt it would have been a nice gesture--it wouldn't make a lot of sense. But we were big Kirby fans. Big Kirby supporters and we did what we could--like on Phantom Force...

continued...

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ES: Right. Everyone at Image pitched in on Phantom Force. There's always been a lot of respect and admiration for Jack's work. There does seem to be a resurgence of interest in all things Kirby, though, and we're just thrilled to be part of that.

NRAMA: What can you tell us about the new series? Are we talking about two separate series here? Or a two-in-one package?

EL: It will be two books to begin with. Silver Star covers Earth - Captain Victory covers all space and both will be packed with awesome Kirby characters and concepts many of which have only appeared as sketches. The idea is to introduce these characters one after another the same way that characters were introduced in other Kirby books over the years. What I'd like to do is feature Jack's original drawings and whatever notes he might have had in the back of the books to give readers insight into what Jack drew and what we had to work with. In the Silver Star book, for example, there are a few drawings that feature characters that didn't make it into the book. In Jack's original Silver Star pitch there was a whole gang of guys that wound up on the cutting room floor and Jack redesigned his "Angel of Death" character so much that he doesn't look like the same guy. That original design was cool as all hell and I want to put that design to good use. Jack has numerous cosmic characters that would fit right in to Captain Victory and Earthbound characters would be right at home in Silver Star and we can mix and match as well, having cosmic characters appearing in Silver Star and non-cosmic characters popping into Captain Victory.

NRAMA: Have you guys determined the launch dates for the new Silver Star and Captain Victory?

EL: That's to be determined. I've started work on them, but I want to have a few issues in the can before they're scheduled.

ES: It's probably safe to say we're looking at some time in 2008.

NRAMA: Are we looking at a relaunch, a fresh start for these creations? Or will the stories continue from where things left off?

EL: They're be continuations of what has gone before and in both cases -- everything you need to know will be in print well before the books start up. And there will be a lot of effort made to make these new-reader friendly. Even if you've never read these books you shouldn't be remotely confused or lost.

ES: The collections for both books will be available by the time these series kick off, so anyone unfamiliar with either character will definitely have the opportunity to check that material out. There were only six issues of Silver Star and 14 of Captain Victory, though, so it wouldn't be too difficult for someone to just dive in to the new books.

EL: But these are very straightforward books. I can't imagine readers being lost. The concepts are very clearly defined and spelled out.

NRAMA: Who's been tapped to chronicle and tell these new adventures? Is Kurt Busiek making a comeback to some of these creations? As I understand it, he's exclusive to DC, right?

EL: I'll be writing and pencilling both books to begin with. Eric's working with me on Captain Victory as a co-writer, but I'll be flying solo on Silver Star.

ES: We are talking about finishing and/or collecting the projects Kurt Busiek started at Topps. Silver Star was completed, but never published and Victory was fully plotted, so the possibilities are there. Kurt also did Jack Kirby's Teen Agents with Neil Vokes and that mini-series was never collected, so that's something we're looking at, too.

NRAMA: Are you looking at doing a crossover with other Image properties as well? Perhaps a series of mini-events leading up to the launch?

EL: I'd rather that come later, really. I'd prefer to have these characters be more grounded first. The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man didn't start off as part of some big crossover -- people got to know those characters first.

ES: If want people crossover events, there are certainly other places for that kind of material. With Captain Victory and Silver Star -- I think there's a real benefit in the fact that they're just two books. And apart from the fact the characters were created by Jack Kirby, there's not really a connection between the two. They both take place within the same "universe," but if you want to buy one and not the other, you're not missing out on anything.

EL: Which is not to say that crossovers can't happen. I'd like to have Silver Star drop by in Savage Dragon and these characters will be part of the overall Image Universe but I think it would be a mistake to immediately have them be forced into some unwieldy company-wide crossover right out of the gate.

NRAMA: Lastly, why would these creations appeal to today's readers?

EL: For the same reason people get fired up about the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man! Why do people care about Batman and Superman nearly 70 years after they were introduced? A good character is a good character and these are awesome characters. And there's going to be a real element of the unknown to these books that longer-running titles don't have. There's a lot more potential for the new and the unexpected when you're only working with a few issues' worth of continuity. And Jack creates enduring, iconic characters. This isn't Jack's version of Batman or Jack's take on Spider-Man--these are rock-solid original concepts that stand on their own.

ES: There's always a market for compelling stories about interesting characters. Both Silver Star and Captain Victory are good characters -- they're good visuals and there's a great story behind each of them. They're two of only a handful of characters Jack created and actually owned and there's something exciting about bringing them into the here and now.

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