Comic Book Artist Edited by Jon B. Cooke Comic Book Artist, Eisner Award winner for "Best Comics-Related Magazine", celebrates the lives and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.

Page from the unpublished True Divorce Cases. Art courtesy of and ©1999 The Kirby Estate.

The Unknown Kirby

Mark Evanier Reveals the King's Treasures Unseen

Conducted by Jon B. Cooke
Transcribed by Jon B. Knutson

From Comic Book Artist Special Edition

Mark Evanier-columnist for the Comics Buyer's Guide, television writer, and perennial creative cohort of Sergio Aragonés-received his first professional break (along with Steve Sherman) as assistant to the King, Jack Kirby. Now writing the definitive biography of the great comic book artist, Mark has an astonishing grasp of the entire history of comics and is an engaging interviewee. The writer has always been a vocal supporter of the TwoMorrows magazine group and I'd like to publically thank him for the enormous help he's given this lowly editor over the years. Mark was interviewed via telephone for two sessions, Oct. 10 and 20, 1999, and he copyedited the transcript.

COMIC BOOK ARTIST: How did you start working with Jack?

MARK EVANIER: Well, I met Jack in July of 1969. I was just one of your geeky grade-level fans, but we got along very well. He saw some of my writing, and was for some inexplicable reason, impressed. Jack actually-God knows why-got it in his head that I could help out with artwork, which is kind of like Arnold Palmer picking someone out of the stands to do his putting for him.

Jack was impressed with my work on the Marvelmania magazine and other things I had done, but I think just generally, we got along. A stream of local comics fans had traipsed out to visit him, not only because he was Jack Kirby but also because he was the first comic book artist in L.A. who was even remotely approachable. Roz later told me that, of all the people he was meeting, I was the one he most connected with as somebody who understood his odd way of speaking. I think a lot of fans came to him wanting sketches and autographs and freebies, and so on. I just wanted his wisdom and counsel.

CBA: So Steve Sherman, Jack's other assistant in those days, was your friend at the time?

MARK: Yes, we had a comic book club, and Steve was a member. He just showed up at a meeting one day, and we became buddies. What happened was there was a science-fiction convention in Santa Monica in the summer of 1969-I think it was actually the July 4th weekend. I didn't attend, but Jack did. He and Roz paid admission, and a lot of comics fans, members of our club, were there and word spread, "Oh, my God, Jack Kirby is here!" They all met him and got autographs, and Jack invited a couple of them to the house, and I tagged along. Our secretary, Rob Solomon, and our treasurer, Mike Rotblatt, had said to him, "Mr. Kirby, we have a comic book club, and we'd love to have you as a guest speaker at one of our meetings." That was their excuse just to talk to him, and he said, "Great, why don't you come to the house and let's talk about it!" Jack was new in Southern California. He and Roz had only been here for a couple of months, and they were looking to make contact with the local writers and artists. Jack had a dream at that point that he was going to someday, in some fashion, start a West Coast comic book company. The Kirbys were a little isolated, living in Irvine, California so he invited our officers, and since I was President, I went along. We got along great and I ended up seeing him a couple of times after that, mostly through my involvement with a mail order firm I worked for briefly called Marvelmania (where I was handling Marvel merchandise). One day, he and Roz came down to Marvelmania, and they took Steve and myself to lunch. We went to Canter's Delicatessen, where Jack told us, "I'm leaving Marvel. I'm going over to DC, and I'm going to be editing a bunch of books. I need a staff; would you guys like to work for me?" We thought it over for about four seconds, and said, "Absolutely." I had no idea what the job would encompass or even if there was any money involved, but you don't say no to Jack Kirby!

CBA: Was the idea for Jack to "Marvelize" DC?

MARK: No, I think Jack's job was to invent new DC comics. I think everything was in play, as witnessed by the fact that Infantino talked to Kirby-and I think, to other people as well-about taking any book in the place and revamping it. That showed at that point, there was no strong commitment to any long-standing book. But it was not just a matter of Jack being brought into a company that was otherwise unchanged-DC had gone through enormous changes in the two years preceding Kirby: Orlando coming in, George Kashdan, Mort Weisinger and other editors going out. You had artists like Jim Mooney, George Klein, and Wayne Boring leaving abruptly or being let go, people like Frank Robbins and Howie Post being brought in, writers like Bill Finger, Eddie Herron, Gardner Fox, and Arnold Drake being ousted... Suddenly, everything in the company was subject to revision, and Kirby was one more thing that was shaking it up. And it was right for Infantino to shake up the company-that was his mandate, that was his mission. If he had come in and left all the books exactly as they looked before he took charge, he would've been guilty of malpractice.

CBA: As far as you know, did Jack initiate the call to DC?

MARK: Jack had talked informally to Carmine off and on over the years. They were friends, and had some history, and they'd had some conversations earlier both on the phone and in person. Carmine didn't suddenly become top man at DC. He advanced through a few other positions-art director and so on. They'd been talking about how, if and when Carmine got the right position, DC would make him an offer. And Jack was at that time saying, "Well, if and when I have certain problems with Marvel, maybe I'll leave," so there was a certain dance going on there. Eventually, it became more and more probable, to the point where Infantino felt he could start assembling a final, firm offer, which required the blessing of his superiors at that time. At the same time, a few things were done to Jack that more or less pushed him over the edge.

CBA: Was Jack working on the concepts that ultimately became the Fourth World upon initiation of the deal?

MARK: Jack came up with the basic concept of The New Gods while he was still at Marvel, though nothing about it was firmly defined until he actually put pencil to paper and drew the first issues. He had a number of ideas, one of which was this basic concept of an epic called The New Gods, which would interlace all these strips and characters. Jack showed it to other people besides Infantino. He'd actually shown it to me when I first met him, when he was still drawing Fantastic Four. It was a book he knew he would do someplace, somewhere, for someone.

CBA: Was his initial plan to do it for Marvel?

MARK: The only way he would've done it for Marvel would've been if Marvel were to suddenly give him a totally different deal, with a totally different structure-if Marvel was going to suddenly do a 180 degree on the way they were treating him.

CBA: So, the concepts that he showed are those well-known colored concept drawings?

MARK: Yeah, he came up with a whole pile of them, though not all of them were necessarily for The New Gods. The way Jack created, everything was in a state of flux until he actually put it down on paper. Jack was the kind of creator who was always juggling ideas and changing his mind. One example of many I could cite would be that when I was working with him, he would tell me, or tell Steve and me, what the next issue of Forever People was going to be about. We'd sit there for an hour and hear this whole story, completely mapped out and completely realized as a full-fledged saga, and one of us would go, "Gee, Jack, that sounds great. I can't wait to read it!" And we'd leave, which was the main extent of our contribution to his work-leaving [laughter]-and Jack would sit down and draw a completely different story! [laughter] A week later, I'd ask him what happened to the story he'd told us, and he'd say, "Isn't this what I told you?" [laughter] It just happened that way. So the whole Fourth World thing-everything-was subject to change until he actually committed it to paper.

CBA: Jack was a very spontaneous guy.

MARK: He was a completely spontaneous guy. I think sometimes he was genuinely surprised at what he had drawn and written.

CBA: One of the surprising things is the genesis of these concept drawings, because Jack seemed to be the type of guy who wouldn't do anything if he wasn't going to get paid for it.

MARK: I think at that point, he was already unhappy at Marvel, and he'd had occasional inquiries from other people, other aspiring publishers. He made a decision he was not going to throw new characters in the Marvel pool, under the terms he had then. It is well-known that at some point, he kind of shut down-the phrase he was using at the time was, "I'm not going to give them another Silver Surfer." So, when ideas occurred to him, instead of sticking them in as villains in the comics he was doing, or giving them to Stan, he would draw them up for himself. He had them inked-mostly by Don Heck-and he colored them, and thereafter, when people came to visit him who were possibly interested in launching projects, he would whip these ideas out. He wanted to impress on anyone that if he found the right situation, he could create ten new books tomorrow.

Kirby's original cover for Mister Miracle #5 before Neal Adams altered aspects of the threatening weaponry. Art courtesy of and ©1999 The Kirby Estate. Mister Miracle ©1999 DC Comics, Inc.

CBA: As far as you can recall, what were the memorable unrealized books?

MARK: There were an awful lot of them. Some of them were just in the talking stages, some of them got into mock-ups. There were two issues of romance books done for the black-&-whites that never got printed. (Actually, they were not two full issues, because a story for one wound up being used in the other.)

CBA: What was the concept behind True Divorce Cases?

MARK: Well, at that time, everybody was saying that the 32-page color comic as we knew it was dead. I don't think anybody would have ever believed or predicted that we'd still be doing them today, but it was a very common belief that the industry had to branch out into other formats, other sizes or shapes, and other audiences, including older audiences. One of the things that intrigued Jack about going to DC, was the prospect of launching new formats, and unleashing different sizes and shapes of comics. He proposed a lot of different formats and sizes, but the only things that materialized were the two issues of the black-&-white books-Spirit World and In the Days of the Mob-which were ideas that had been downsized considerably. Jack was initially talking about full-color magazines. If you're familiar with how the National Lampoon looked in those days, what Jack envisioned was probably very much like that format, but applied to a wider range of material, with advertising and glossy paper, photos, and things of that sort. DC was, for whatever reason, not interested in developing these concepts; they either didn't like Jack's ideas, or the proposals represented too much of a gamble. So the magazine idea was eventually scaled back to something that more resembled what Jim Warren was doing. Jack had been proposing genres that would appeal to a much more adult audience. They wound up with a crime book, a horror book, and a love comic, and they didn't even put out the love comic.

True Divorce Cases was one of 10 or 20 ideas he had for that format. When he suggested it, he was thinking of something that would be much more geared towards the audience for, say, Harlequin romances-something that would be put in the "romance" section, as opposed to the comics section. This was not something that Independent News felt they could distribute, or that DC felt they wanted to gamble on at the time.

CBA: Out of that came Soul Love?

MARK: As I recall, the genesis was Jack did the first issue of True Divorce Cases-he wrote and drew the whole issue with a little help from us, sent it in-and there was a consensus somewhere between DC and the distributor that this book was not worth gambling on; that it was not that good a comic. However the one story in it that had a Black couple got someone interested. There was talk at that time that Independent News wanted to try to do more magazines that catered to what we call today the "urban audience," but at that time was called the "Black audience." There were a lot of music magazines catching on that were Black-themed, and someplace between Jack, the editorial offices at DC, and Independent News, the decision was made to take the divorce story with the Black couple out of True Divorce Cases, and for Jack to add to it to create a whole issue of Black love stories. The book was variously titled Soul Love or Soul Romances. Since it never went to press, I don't think the final decision was made which it would be. Jack kind of liked the idea, but he didn't feel he should be the one to write and draw it. He felt DC should beat the bushes and find young Black writers and artists-and young was more important than Black. Unfortunately, that was not in Infantino's budget, or in the best interests of the project, they felt. So Jack wound up doing the entire book itself. Steve and I brought in a whole bunch of issues of Ebony for Jack to use as reference, and he did these stories, quite conscious of the fact that a Jewish guy in his 50s was not the ideal person to be writing a Black-oriented book.

CBA: A personal observation: It seems to me that True Divorce Cases were strong stories, they were good storytelling, and it was a good book!

MARK: I thought it was some of the best stuff Jack did. That was not an opinion held, for whatever reason, in New York.

CBA: From my point of view, Soul Love was, arguably, one of the worst things he ever did.

MARK: Did you ever see the penciled versions of those stories? I liked the material better, much better in pencil than I did inked. And that was not just because Colletta toned down the ethnic qualities of the faces. It was some of the best art Jack had ever done, there was something in the drawings that...

CBA: Some of Kirby got lost in the process?

MARK: Yeah, some things got lost, and I'm not entirely sure that the stats that are circulating today completely represent the actual dialogue Jack wrote. There was a lot of fiddling with those stories over a period of months, and I don't really know for sure. Jack did not keep any photocopies at that time of his work, and it would not surprise me at all that some of the dialogue that we see on those books was not his.

CBA: You'd mentioned to me earlier that there was some "flak" from the Roberta Flack organization about Soul Love?

MARK: The book was supposed to have a full-color pull-out poster, like we had in Spirit World and In the Days of the Mob. At that point, Roberta Flack was recording for, I think, Atlantic Records, or some subsidiary of Kinney or Warners. The idea was that the poster in Soul Love or Soul Romance, whatever it wound up being called, would be a poster of Roberta Flack. As I said, the material for the book underwent a number of revisions. Jack wasn't entirely sure what he was doing, and a number of different people at DC and Independent News had their ideas about the material, although I don't think any of them were Black. They went to a consultant, or maybe it was a distributor with some supposed expertise in marketing material for Black audiences. Out of this came a directive to Vince Colletta to tone down the ethnic qualities in the characters' faces. We were told that Colletta was making the men all look like Sidney Poitier, and all the women had to look like Diahann Carroll. Some package of this material (I don't know if it was before or after the revisions were made) was shipped to Roberta Flack's public relations people-her "flack," I guess-and we got back the word that they hated it. I don't know if she hated it or if she even saw it but that was the death knell for Soul Love.

CBA: If you look at the trio of books there-Mob, Spirit World and the romance book-you find three genres that Kirby was very involved in at one time or another in his career. He did Justice Traps the Guilty-crime comics; and he helped create horror comics with Black Magic; and Jack and Joe Simon were the creators of the phenomenally successful romance comics with Young Romance. Interestingly, his three DC b-&-w projects returned to genres he was very familiar with.

MARK: One of the things that was interesting about Jack was that he had very little preference as to which genre he worked in. He thought certain kinds of books were more commercial at certain times and, of course, he preferred to do a commercial book... something that would sell. But if you put that consideration aside, he didn't care that much if he was doing a Western or a war book or a love book. It was like a personal challenge to him to do something special with every project. So it was no hardship on him to do a crime book or a love book. It was like, "Okay, DC wants a ghost book... I'll give 'em the best possible ghost book I can do."

CBA: It's just funny-not that any of those three books were, per se, retreads of earlier genres that he had actually helped to initiate to varying degrees-but Jack was not known for covering old ground. He always seemed to move ahead as a creator. Was that the initiation of those three ideas? Did they come from Jack, did they come from DC, were they a mix?

MARK: My understanding was that Jack suggested a whole pile of ideas, dozens of them, and they picked out the ones they wanted.

CBA: They just cherry-picked.

MARK: Yeah, and he was perfectly comfortable doing those genres. He would have liked to do more upscale magazines-what he actually wanted to do was to only write and draw one story in each, and let other writers and artists do stories, especially if they did things totally different from what he was doing.

Jack wanted very much to be an idea man, an editor, a nexus for creative talent, and that did not fit in with DC's plans or structure at the time, so he wound up doing it all pretty much himself. There were little token things he gave Steve or myself to do.

CBA: What was the idea behind Superworld?

MARK: Jack wanted to do a comics tabloid. He was looking for new formats to put comics into. Now, he wasn't the first person thinking about it-it was an idea that was in the air. He envisioned a weekly magazine/newspaper, maybe monthly, that would cover all the arts-film, television, dance, theater, everything, and there'd be a large comics section in it that would bring all these different forms together. He saw comics as the convergence of all these different art forms into one. So, he told this idea to various people at DC-not just Infantino, but also other folks at Independent News who could distribute such a publication. I don't think anyone understood what he was proposing but that wasn't their fault. One of the problems Jack had was, the way he talked, people often didn't understand what he pitched them. When he started talking about an idea, he went off in all directions at once, skipping over the basics, almost daring the listener to keep up with him. His style was not always conducive to conveying what he envisioned. Still, he was so hot on this idea that no one seemed to understand so he said, "Let's show it to them! Let's do a mock-up of this book!" Steve and I threw this thing together, calling in favors from friends, using different people we knew.

CBA: Was there any relationship between the concept of Uncle Carmine's Fat City Comix and Superworld?

MARK: Not really. I don't think Uncle Carmine's Fat City Comix was actually a serious proposal. What I recall was that we had talked about Superworld, we had also talked about a tabloid of all underground comix, similar to Gothic Blimp-works. Jack had come up with Fat City Comix as a possible title and Steve and I each designed title logos. As I recall, Steve said, "Let's call it 'Uncle Carmine's Fat City Comix,'" and he did a little caricature of Carmine as part of his proposed logo. That's as far as it got. I don't think we ever submitted anything. It was just kind of a talking point.

CBA: It was somewhat provocative material for Jack Kirby, right?

MARK: Up to a point, yeah. You know, the thing about "Galaxy Green," that strip he did, was that we had talked to Jack about erotic comics, and Jack felt he could not do them; that he was not physically able to sit down and do something as adult as he knew an adult strip would have to be to be commercial. It was a very strange situation, in that Jack felt there was a huge market out there that wasn't being tapped. In fact, he was talking to Wally Wood during this period, and he encouraged Wood greatly in that direction. But Jack felt that he could not draw a strip with naked women in it.

CBA: Well, with "Galaxy Green," Jack was doing sexy material.

MARK: What you saw there was Jack going as far as he felt he could-that's what "Galaxy Green" was. It was almost an experiment. That was about as dirty as he could make it. Today, it looks relatively tame.

CBA: In the Days of the Mob had prostitutes and a lot of heaving-bosom shots.

MARK: Yep. That was about as far as he could go. I'll tell you an interesting story. It was an issue of Forever People where Jack drew the splash page with Beautiful Dreamer in a bikini bathing suit-a two-piece-and it was very sexy. After the inks came back from Mike Royer, but before Jack had sent the issue off to New York, a group called the UCLA Campus Comics and Science-Fiction Society made a field trip to Jack's studio. It was a group of eight or nine comics fans who all met every week at UCLA. They saw this page, and got all excited about it and Jack thought these 19-year-old guys were getting too worked up about a sexy drawing. After they left, he took a bottle of India ink and he blacked-in the swimsuit, turned it from a two-piece into a one-piece. [laughter] He had unleashed something much randier than he had intended. In hindsight, Jack even admitted it was a silly panic.

CBA: There was an actual published page where Jack drew a nude Big Barda in the bathtub.

MARK: Well, I wrote that page-that's the one page in the history of Jack Kirby's Fourth World comics that Jack didn't write. He gave it to me to do because he was a page short. Jack was wonderful at many things, but calculating was not one of them. [laughter] He had trouble measuring, too. There's an issue of Jimmy Olsen that Jack accidentally drew 11" x 15" instead of 10" x 15". The original art for the black-&-white books was 11" wide and Jack was doing them at the same time and got confused. I had to go in and erase an inch from every page which, since Jack's composition was so flawless, was just about impossible. A lot of artists are absolutely terrible when it comes to using a ruler. (Years later, we had this group called C.A.P.S. and we put together a catalog where every artist had to submit a drawing of a certain size, and of 50 professional artists, I think around nine submitted the right size... nine were able to measure correctly!) Jack had penciled that issue of Mr. Miracle. He handed it to me for a read-through before he sent it off to Royer, and I said, "Jack, you're a page short." He didn't believe me, but sure enough, he had misnumbered. He'd somehow jumped from page 9 to page 11 or something like that, so he said to me, "Find a place to put a page in. You write it, and I'll draw it." At that time, there was a little bit of a fetish going on in comics where all the heroines were suddenly taking showers.

CBA: Like Black Canary?

MARK: Yes. All of a sudden, after years of strenuous fight scenes, all of the super-heroines suddenly found it necessary to take showers in their comics. It was just a little exploitation thing and everybody was a little horny about it. Jack had written a line in the issue wherein Barda said, "I'm going to go take a bath," but he had not drawn that scene. So, I figured everyone would be disappointed and I found a place where, with a few minor dialogue changes on other pages, the bathtub scene could be inserted. I wrote that page, and Jack drew it, making some changes in the dialogue. I was trying to sound like him as much as I could, because my writing style, I felt, was drastically different.

CBA: Are there any projects that you particularly pushed with Jack? Or other genres you wanted to be involved with?

MARK: Jack was the idea guy, and everything he said sounded good to me. The thing I think I should emphasize here is that Jack was not looking to do comics for the same audience. Almost everything he proposed was to be in a different format, usually something with big, full-color pages. Jack was not wild about black-&-whites. He wanted something big and fancy, with lots of advertising, and a color pull-out; the bigger the paper, the better. Jack hated small pages. Just about everything he came up with was something I thought would be fun to do; some, of course, more than others.

These are just excerpts from Mark Evanier's interview.

This issue is currently unavailable from TwoMorrows.To make subscription and back issue orders easier for our readers (especially those overseas), we now accept VISA and MASTERCARD on our secure web store! (Phone, fax, mail and e-mail accepted, too!)
MasterCard logoVisa logo
Click to join!
Sign up here
to receive periodic updates about what's going on in the world of TwoMorrows Publishing.
New Fall/Winter catalog cover

Click here to download our new Fall-Winter catalog (2mb PDF file)

Search Search the web
All characters © their respective owners. All material © their creators unless otherwise noted. All editorial content © their respective authors.
Comic Book Artist content ©1998-2000 Jon B. Cooke/TwoMorrows. Website © 1996-2003 TwoMorrows Publishing.