|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and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.|
Front cover to the Superworld mock-up, featuring a Kirby watercolor. Courtesy of and ©1999 The Kirby Estate.
Jack Kirby's Superworld
Steve Sherman Recalls Unseen Kirby Koncepts
Conducted by Jon B. Cooke
Assistant to Jack Kirby in the 1970s, Steve Sherman was witness to one of the most fertile and creative epochs in the King's remarkable career. Steve not only composed the letter columns (along with Mark Evanier for a time), but also devised concepts for Jack's final DC book, Kobra. Now a renowned puppeteer in the film industry (with M.I.B., Mighty Joe Young, and other movies to his credit), Steve was kind enough to answer some questions via e-mail this past October
COMIC BOOK ARTIST: Do you recall any specific projects that Jack developed that never made it to publication?
STEVE SHERMAN: I can only recall two. One was a female robot character. Jack had the idea and I did a photo mock-up cover for it. I think the title was Starbaby. The reason it was a photo cover was because Jack was very intrigued with fumetti type comics (these are comic books done with photographs, mostly either Italian or Mexican in origin). Jack felt they really hadn't been done properly. I don't know if Jack wrote it down somewhere or not. That was as far as it got.
The other was a concept called The Ship. It was sort of a Challengers of the Unknown type of saga. A group of ordinary people discover an alien spaceship which they use to fight evil. They keep discovering all kinds of different weapons and things that the ship can do.
CBA: Did Jack have specific spin-off plans for some of his Fourth World concepts?
STEVE: Not that I can remember. He pretty much took everything book-by-book. If anything, I think that he would have been happy just doing New Gods, Forever People and Mr. Miracle. That was what he was concentrating on. Jack only did Jimmy Olsen because DC wanted him to do a Superman book.
CBA: What was the idea behind Superworld?
STEVE: I recall Jack calling it the Superworld of Everything. It was going to be an anthology magazine featuring different strips by a variety of artists. I guess it would have been something along the lines of the early issues of Heavy Metal, only on cheaper paper.
CBA: Any relationship between Superworld and Uncle Carmine's Fat City Comix?
STEVE: I think that Uncle Carmine's FCC evolved out of Superworld. It all came about because Jack wanted to try different things. He wanted to break out of the 6" x 10" 32-page comic book format. He was very impressed by Steranko's History of Comics, and liked the format - that's one of the reasons why the Kirby Unleashed portfolio was the same size.
Anyway, Mark and I were kicking around ideas, and it seemed to us that there was this whole underground comics movement going on that was being ignored by the Big Companies. Really funny stuff. Jack loved the undergrounds. The more gross they were, the more he would howl with laughter. He'd point to something and shake his head in amazement. We knew that DC wouldn't publish anything too risky, so we tried to minimize the risk as much as possible. We came up with a monthly tabloid-size magazine, without the slick cover - sort of like Rolling Stone, only for comics. Part of the idea came from the old Wham-O Giant Comics one-shot with Wally Wood and Alex Toth art. We figured out a way so that it could be printed on the Eastern Color comic presses using the same plates as the comic books only without the folding and binding. We would have movie reviews, articles, comics, pictures, cartoons. We figured we could get Coke, McDonald's, etc. - advertisers who at the time didn't advertise in comic books. Remember, this was back in the days when Grit was still buying ads. We talked to Steve Ditko, Harlan Ellison - everyone we thought would be willing to do one page a month. Once they heard that Jack would be in charge, everyone was eager to come on board. They were all excited about working on it. We wrote up a presentation, I think I did a logo of a cityscape and Mark lettered the title. I can't recall who came up with the name. Jack came up with "Fat City," I think. "Comix" made it look underground. And "Uncle Carmine" seemed funny. We needed some sort of figurehead. If Stan Lee could do it, we figured Carmine Infantino could do it, too.
As far as I know, Carmine never even saw the proposal. Once the Spirit World and In the Days of the Mob magazines came out and bombed, there was no more talk of doing anything other than comic books. Too bad, too. I still think it was a pretty good idea - sort of a monthly, national comics section.
CBA: Was Marvel making overtures to Jack between 1970 and '74?
STEVE: Not really. I was 20-21 at the time. Mark was, I think, 18 or 19. We were just jazzed at the prospect of working with Jack Kirby and that he was open to our ideas. The one thing we mentioned once was a series of "How-to-create-comics" books. Jack just hated that. Wouldn't touch it. He felt that if someone wanted to learn how to write and draw comics, they just had to pick up his books. Everything was there he felt.
CBA: Were you aware of a DC Comics West concept where Jack would be de facto creative director, turning over work to you and Mark - e.g., Kamandi was allegedly going to be given to Evanier and Dan Spiegle?
STEVE: Yes. That was Jack's plan. He wanted to develop a group of writers and artists that he could work with so that he could eventually just supervise. There were never any specifics. We never had any kind of budget. Plus, there were a lot of political things going on at DC that we were not aware of. You have to remember that DC Comics was at the time a very, very conservative company. Most of the staff employees had been there since the 1940s. I think that they viewed Marvel as one step above pornographers, since the Goodmans also published some pretty cheesy men's magazines. Many of them were not very happy to have Jack Kirby working there writing and editing his own books, let alone setting up a West Coast office.
CBA: Did you accomplish what you wanted working with Jack? What were your goals?
STEVE: I'm not sure what my goals were back then. I know it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot from Jack about writing and storytelling.
CBA: Do you remember any material from Kirby's unrealized DC projects from the '70s?
STEVE: I'm afraid I don't. There really wasn't that much stuff that wasn't used. It wasn't like we were creating lots of presentations or characters in hopes that they would be used. Jack had enough to do just putting out a book a week.
These are just excerpts from Steve Sherman's interview.
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