Greg Theakston has recently made attempts to reclaim materials he donated to the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center several years ago, and to cast Executive Director Rand Hoppe as a thief who’s stolen his property. Now Greg’s inexplicably demanding that I send him back materials he says he somehow “loaned” me as well. As Greg continues to beat this drum on the Internet, it’s clear to me that I need to document the history behind the donation Greg is now claiming he only loaned to the Museum—and to present evidence that proves most of it wasn’t Greg’s property to begin with.
What’s at issue? Jack Kirby kept photocopies of his pencil art (before it was inked) at his home in Thousand Oaks, California. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics would make the copies and send them to Jack (this helped him keep up with continuity as he began each new issue). In 1970 or so, Jack got a copier for his home, and xeroxed the pencils himself before sending in his art, in case it got lost in the mail. These photocopies are all the Kirbys’ property to do with as they please; always have been, always will be, and they’re a remarkable record of his pencil work from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The xeroxes accumulated at the Kirbys’ home, and ended up stored in their garage. Greg Theakston, upon visits to the Kirby home in the late 1980s and early 1990s, shipped a large quantity of them back to his home in New York, with the understanding that he was using them for research. According to Jack’s wife Roz Kirby, it was clear to both parties that these were simply a loan, and would be returned when Greg was done with his research. When I spoke to Roz about those photocopies in 1996, she specifically said, “I loaned those to him for research purposes. He never returned them.” (The family later gave me access to a lot of photocopies Greg didn’t borrow, and it was always clear to me those were a loan as well.)
Several people have confirmed over the years that Roz also told them the materials were only loaned to Greg, and that he wouldn’t return them. For example, here’s an excerpt from a 1998 interview conducted with the late Dave Stevens, who was a close friend of the Kirby family:
DAVE STEVENS: I was out there for dinner a couple of times in the last year before she died, and she was lamenting the fact that she couldn’t get all this material back from him. Apparently he was sitting on a mountain of stuff, copies or whatever it was, whatever format, but it was a lot of pieces of Jack’s art, that she just has no record of, if he didn’t return it. It was stuff that she couldn’t access. I guess he’d taken the stuff, or borrowed it over a period of years, with the promise of bringing it back, and it never happened.
After Roz Kirby passed away in late 1997, a very vocal fight escalated on the Kirby-L internet mailing list about the xeroxes. This led to my Jan. 18, 1998 phone conversation with Greg, which included this exchange:
JOHN MORROW: Roz told me last Summer she wanted you to return the xeroxes. She wanted Jeremy [Kirby, Jack and Roz’s grandson] to have them.
GREG THEAKSTON: Yes, I know. We spoke about that at length on several occasions.
JOHN: So you know she wanted you to return the xeroxes?
GREG: Yeah. I told her to have Jeremy call me. He never did, so he lost his chance.
The online fight continued, and on September 8, 1998, in response to a Kirby-L poster who suggested that the xeroxes be copied and the originals returned to the Kirbys, Greg wrote: “I have no problem with this, but it must be on my schedule.”
With an apparent resolution, things died down on Kirby-L. But another four years went by, with no action on Greg’s part to return the xeroxes to the Kirbys.
So on New Year’s Eve, 2002, with the approval of the Kirby family, I attempted to mediate a solution. I sent Greg an email, offering a resolution that would involve TwoMorrows scanning what Greg had borrowed, and then both Greg and the Kirbys would receive a set of the scans, with the originals going back to the Kirby family.
There were three provisions (the same ones I follow on the Jack Kirby Collector magazine):
1) Greg wouldn’t disseminate copies of the scans to anyone
2) Greg would only use them for research purposes, and
3) If Greg wanted to use any of the images in his own publications, he’d OK it with the Kirbys first
Following that exchange, in early 2003 I received a shipment of xeroxes from Greg, with the freight billed to my FedEx account. After inventorying what he’d sent, it was clear this couldn’t possibly have been all the ones Greg had. So I sent Greg another message, politely asking him to send the rest when he could. Greg never sent the rest of the xeroxes, so no scans were sent to him, and this is where the situation sat for another five years.
From there, Rand and the Museum enter the picture. I’ll leave it to Rand to speak for what took place beyond this, except to say that the Kirby Estate is in possession of a letter from Greg, dated Sept. 2009, in which Greg unequivocally states he has “donated” the materials to the Museum. For the record, all of the photocopies that were sent to me by the Kirbys (and by Greg in 2003) are no longer in my possession, and haven’t been for several years. TwoMorrows long ago completed scanning what we had access to, and the Museum is now re-scanning them at even higher archival quality than we could a decade ago.
But my position now is, and always has been, that those xeroxes were a loan only, and belong to the Kirby family; not to me, the Museum, or Greg Theakston. Roz made that clear to me and several other people, including Greg. I hope this helps put the issue to rest, but if not, I’ll present more evidence to support this position in an upcoming Jack Kirby Collector article, and offer a more comprehensive look at this situation.
Full disclosure: I am a proud Trustee of the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center (www.kirbymuseum.org), along with Rand Hoppe, Tom Kraft and David Schwartz. Rand founded the Museum in 2005, and acts as its Executive Director. The Museum was recognized as a non-profit entity by the IRS in 2007. Rand has also (along with Tom) put in thousands of hours of his time since 2005, for no pay, to further Jack’s legacy by putting on exhibits around the world (one is coming in a few months in conjunction with the Angouleme comics festival in France). His efforts include a very successful pop-up museum at Jack’s birthplace on New York’s Lower East Side last year (with another in the works), and scanning a wealth of pages of Kirby original art for posterity in the Museum’s digital archive. It’s an entity I fully support, both with my efforts, and my financial contributions.