|Edited by John Morrow||Jack Kirby Collector celebrates the life and career of the "King" of comics through interviews with Kirby and his contemporaries, feature articles, and rare & unseen Kirby artwork. Now in tabloid format, the magazine showcases Kirby's art at even larger size.|
Will Eisner Speaks!
An interview by & © Jean DepelleyFrom Jack Kirby Collector #16
In the late Thirties, Jack was looking for new editors as a freelance artist. In 1936, he started with the Lincoln News Syndicate, working on his first comic strips. Two years later, a more experienced Kirby was employed by Will Eisner & Jerry Iger's Art Syndication Company in New York. There, he produced three strips: Diary of Doctor Hayward, Wilton of the West, and Count of Monte Cristo (finished by Lou Fine), published in the first issues of Fiction House's Jumbo Comics in 1939, and constituting his first comic book work. Jack left the studio the same year, going from Martin Goodman's Red Circle Company to Fox Features, where he met his long-time collaborator Joe Simon. Little was written about Jack's time in the studio apart from an interview conducted by Will Eisner himself for The Spirit Magazine in the Eighties. This interview with the Spirit's father was conducted on 25 January 1997 in Angoulême during the most important French comic convention. I'd like to thank Will Eisner for his time and his kindness. Special thanks also to Gerard Jean (Magazines de France) for the recording.
THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR: In 1938, you created the Art Syndication Company with Jerry Iger. What was the purpose of this syndicate?
WILL EISNER: It was a company that I began with Jerry Iger, who was formally the editor of Wow Magazine. Wow Magazine was the first magazine that I did work for. I was a young freelance cartoonist. The magazine went bankrupt. It went out after two or three issues. So, I was out of work. I was very poor because it was still the Great Depression. Jerry Iger was broke; he was out of work, out of a job. But I saw something that was very obvious: You didn't have to be a genius to see that they were looking for new stories, original stories. Up until that time, the magazines that were beginning were using newspaper strips, which they pasted together. Then I said to Jerry Iger, "Something is happening here. Pretty soon, there won't be enough strips, and they will need original material; and I think we can do it." So I said, "Let's make a company."
We had lunch together in a little restaurant. He said, "No, I don't want to do that. Besides, we don't have enough money to start." So I said I would put up the money. It was my money: $15, which paid the rent for three months for a little office, a very tiny office. There was room enough for one little drawing board and a little desk, and that's all. That was why my name was first on the company: It was "Eisner & Iger." I was the financial man, you know! (laughter) So, I did all the drawings.
TJKC: How did you meet Jack Kirby at that time?
WILL: Within a few months, the company was successful. It was growing very fast, and we moved to a larger office on Madison Avenue and 40th Street. But you see, in that office we pretended that we had five artists, but actually it was all me! (laughter) I did five different stories with different names: Willis Rensie, W. Morgan Thomas, Spencer Steel, names like that. Iger was a salesman. He was not a good cartoonist, but he could do lettering, so he did lettering for me. He would be a salesman, he would go and call on the publishers, and he would say, "We have five artists. These are the names..." (laughter) Then we got so much business that we moved to another office, and I began to hire old friends. I went to school with Bob Kane [at DeWitt Clinton High School], so I asked him to come work for me. He was looking for work. And then we began to hire people. Jack Kirby came in one day with a portfolio; he was looking for work. So we hired him and he was good. That's how he came.
TJKC: What other artists were working there, along with Iger, Kane, Kirby, Lou Fine and you?
WILL: Bob Powell. But these names you remember, they were different names! Bob Powell's real name was Stanislav Pavlowsky. (laughter) Jack Kirby's name was Jacob Kurtzberg. Bob Kane's was Bob Kahn. I was the only one that kept my own name! (laughter)
TJKC: Your production was to be sold to Editors Press Service, publisher of the British magazine Wag. Was your work, along with Jack's work, published then or was it first released in Jumbo Comics for Fiction House?
WILL: No, the first releases were to magazines that were starting out. The company was what's called a "packager." It's where you put everything together and deliver to the publishers what they call "camera-ready" and they would print it. The publishers who were coming into the business then had no experience with comics. They were all pulp magazine publishers and pulp magazines were dying. They were looking for new material. So, we were not publishers, but we were producers.
First we began with Editors Press and there were a few other magazines. And then we went to Fiction House which then published Jumbo Comics and Jungle Comics.
TJKC: Do you have any anecdotes to share about Jack at work then?
WILL: Jack was a little fellow. He thought he was John Garfield, the actor! (laughter) Very tough, very tough. Everything you see here [Will points to the cover of The Jack Kirby Collector #13] was inside him. But he was a very little fellow; a very good fellow, but very tough. When we moved to a new office in a nice office building, we had a towel service for the artists to wash their hands, and we would buy a towel for each of the artists so they could wash up. The people who supplied the towels, however, were mafia! (laughter) They were charging more and more money, so my partner Iger said, "Look, let's find another towel service [that's] cheaper," because at that time we had ten to fifteen artists and it was beginning to cost money. So I called them and said, "Look, we would like to find another towel service." So I get a visit from their salesman. (laughter) He had a white tie, a black hat, a broken nose, y'know? Scarface! (laughter) And he came in and said, "Are you really not happy with the service?" I said, "Well, we want to find another..." He said, "There is nobody else that can service this building." (laughter)
We were beginning to talk loud, and from the other room, in comes Jack Kirby. He says to me, "Will, is he giving you a problem? I will beat him up." (laughter) This is little Jack Kirby, and this big guy! (laughter) I said, "Jack, go inside!" Jack says, "No, no." He says to the fellow, "Look, we don't have to take your towels! We can take other people's!" The guy looked at me and said, "Who is he?" And I said, "He's my chief artist. Don't get him angry, because..." (laughter) So this fellow said, "Look, we want to do this friendly. We don't want to have any trouble." And Jack said, "If he comes to see you again, call me and I'll beat him up!" (laughter)
TJKC: Did the artists work in collaboration on the same strips in the studio ? Did you ever work on Jack's pencils, or Jack on yours?
WILL: No, the way we worked in Eisner & Iger was that I would design a story in the very beginning, maybe sometimes in blue pencil, and then Jack would take it and do it, or Bob Powell would take it and do it. For example, I designed the character Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. So, I made the first drawing. Sometimes I would do the cover first, and then give it to somebody and say, "Here, you do it." That how we worked.
TJKC: Can you tell me what you did after the studio?
WILL: In 1938, the newspaper syndicate came to realize the importance of comic books. They wanted me to make a comic book for newspapers. At that time, it was a big risk! They gave me an adult audience and I wanted to write better things than super-heroes. Comic books were a ghetto. I sold my part of the enterprise to my associate and then began The Spirit. They wanted an heroic character, a costumed character. They asked me if he'd have a costume. And I put a mask on him and said, "Yes, he has a costume!"
TJKC: You met Jack again in the eighties  for an interview in Spirit Magazine #39. Did you meet Jack after that?
WILL: After that, I would see him in places like San Diego. He moved to California. In America, up until a few years ago, artists didn't see each other very often, because they lived in different places. America is a very big place, and we didn't see each other. So I would see him when I got to San Diego; we would talk and say hello.
There is another thing I can tell you. I did a book called The Dreamer [Kitchen Sink, 1986], in which I showed Jack Kirby, and Jack said to somebody, "I didn't think Will liked me that much!" (laughter) He always called me "boss." (laughter) I said, "Jack, we're old men now, you don't have to call me boss anymore." "No," he said, "you're still my boss." (laughter)
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