|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.
Roz Kirby Interview Excerpts
Interviewed by & © John Morrow (on 18 December 1995)
These are only a few excerpts from the interview. The complete interview is printed in our Tenth issue.From Jack Kirby Collector #10
THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR: Where were you born? Did you grow up in the same kind of neighborhood as Jack?
ROSALIND KIRBY: I was born in Brooklyn, September 25, 1922. Jack was brought up in the lower east side of Manhattan, in tenement houses. I was brought up in Brooklyn in small, private homes. But my folks were also very poor, and they had a tough life. My father was a tailor, my mother did a lot of work dress-making and things. I was very ill as a young girl because I had asthma. From age eight I was very sick. I used to sit up at night and help my mother do hand-sewing and I became very good at it. Before I met Jack I was working as a lingerie designer, doing very fine work designing all those pretty things you put on women's lingerie, and laces and things like that. That's why I was able to do inking, because I always used a fine pen and ink for the lace work. Right after I graduated high school, I got the job and did it for a few years.
TJKC: Did the Depression hit your family pretty hard?
JOE: Well, it didn't have to hit. There was always a depression for us. It was always pretty difficult for my folks. They worked hard all their lives. We moved to so many places. When we couldn't pay the rent, we had to move to another apartment. But they always managed to have a roof over our head, and have food for us, and the children always came first for them. They were good parents.
TJKC: How did you and Jack meet?
ROZ: That was one of the times we were moving. It was to one of these attached brick homes, and Jack's family lived downstairs, and my folks rented the apartment upstairs. The first time I came there, he was playing stickball with his friends. I was 17-1/2, and Jack was five years older. His parents and my parents were getting acquainted, and he came over to me and started talking. The first thing he says to me is, "Would you like to see my etchings?" (laughter) I didn't know what the word "etchings" meant, and he said, "My drawings." So I said, "Oh, sure." So he takes me to his bedroom, and I thought, "What could happen? My folks are there, his folks are there."(laughter) And that's the first time I saw Captain America. I'd never read a comic book in my life.
It was the summer of 1940. I was telling everyone I was disappointed. I thought he was going to fool around! (laughter) And from that time on... let's see, I was 17-1/2, on my 18th birthday I became engaged. We were engaged for a year, and when I was 19 and he was 24, we were married.
TJKC: What was the date of your wedding?
ROZ: May 23, 1942. We were married for about a year before he was drafted. He wasn't drafted the first year because he was supporting his parents, so they let him have a certain time off. Then after the year, all his friends were in the service, so he said, "That's it" and he went in the year after we were married.
TJKC: While Jack was off in World War II, what were you doing? Was your family nearby?
ROZ: I still worked at the lingerie shop until he came home from the service. Back then, we all lived nearby, we were all very close. When Jack went to the service, I gave up the apartment and moved in with my mother so I wouldn't be alone.
TJKC: Was there ever any stigma attached to being married to a comic book artist? When you told your friends what your husband did for a living, was it ever strange for you at all?
ROZ: Not really. I think they always found it so different that they always asked questions. Especially if you mentioned Captain America, because Captain America seemed to be making a big hit in those days, during the Army days. It always impressed everyone. Even to this day, if you mention comic books, they're always very interested. Because it's something different. How many people can say they worked as a comic book artist?
TJKC: When were each of your children born?
ROZ: Susan just had a birthday, she hit the big Five-Oh. Her's was December 6th, 1945. Neal was born May 25th, 1948, close to my anniversary. Barbara was born November 29th, 1952. And Lisa was born September 6th, 1960.
TJKC: How did Jack react when you told him you were pregnant with Susan?
ROZ: Oh, he was thrilled! He always said, "That's the American way. Fight the war, come back, and start your family." We were very excited about it, because we were married a couple of years before we had our first child. Then we moved to Long Island and bought our first house there. That's when Joe Simon bought a house right across the street from us. He and his family moved at the same time.
TJKC: With all the work Jack was turning out at that point, was he able to be there when Susan was born?
ROZ: Oh yes, he was home for all the children. In fact, he was a very good baby sitter, because he worked at home. So I was able to get out while he took care of the kids. He had more patience than I did! (laughter) Like at night, if anybody cried, he was the one who got up and walked the floor with them while I slept. He was great that way.
TJKC: So he was able to get work done with the kids around?
ROZ: Yes, he never really started his work until after they were settled down for the night. Then he'd be working until about 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Many times I'd wake up, the sun was up, and he'd still be at the board; because that's when he found the house was quiet, and he was able to do his work.
TJKC: When did Jack start smoking cigars?
ROZ: I think when he met Joe Simon! (laughter) When Joe was smoking, Jack was smoking. They both stunk up the house! (laughter) My walls were yellow, my drapes were yellow, all the books were yellow.
TJKC: Let's talk about Joe Simon for a minute. Did you and Jack socialize with Joe and his wife much during the 1940s?
ROZ: No, not too much. We were good neighbors, and I socialized more with Joe's wife Harriet because the kids were all the same age. We'd go to the beach a lot. There was another couple, the Fleagles, and we'd all pile into the cars and go to the beach. We were all so busy, the boys were working at night, and we were busy with the kids. We didn't really socialize that much, but we socialized as neighbors, took walks with the children, took them for ice cream and things like that.
TJKC: Were Jack and Joe really close, or were they just co-workers who got along really well?
ROZ: I wouldn't say they were close, but they got along very well. Jack always thought of Joe as a big brother.
TJKC: I've always wondered how two tough, rugged guys like Jack and Joe did all those romance comics. Did you give them ideas for stories?
ROZ: Oh, no, no. If I suggested anything to Jack, he'd get hysterical. You know the crazy names he always came up with? I'd say, "I have a great name for you." He'd look at me and get hysterical and start laughing! (laughter) So I said, "Okay, I'm not gonna give you any more ideas!" (laughter)
If I read a story, I'd tell him if I liked it or not, and he liked it when I did that. But I never gave him any ideas for anything. Sometimes when he came up with things like the Silver Surfer and the Black Racer, I'd say, "It's crazy. It'll never go over. What kind of crazy names are those?" (laughter) But his vision... he'd look ahead and say, "Don't worry, they'll catch on. Don't worry."
TJKC: When Jack and Joe's Mainline company went out of business due to the whole Comics Code thing and the way the industry was going, was it a really scary time in your lives?
ROZ: I'm trying to remember. I never dealt too much with the business end of that. But it was tough times. Like nowadays, the books weren't doing well. If you put money into it, you lost your money. At that time, with that guy Dr. Wertham, there was a lot of that going on.
Jack was always very angry about it, but there was nothing... he called Wertham all kinds of names. (laughter) But life went on. There wasn't anything he could do about it. They felt their books weren't that bad. But Wertham lumped all the books together, he didn't take it book by book, and everybody thought all the books were the same.
TJKC: After working as a team for so many years, was Jack concerned when Joe went into advertising in 1959? Was it difficult for him emotionally to be out on his own again?
ROZ: Well, the field was very bad, and they were both looking for work at that time. But Jack was always able to get work. Not as much, but he was always able to find work. Jack never liked the advertising field. I'm sure he could have gone into it, but he never liked it. His heart had always been with comics, so he stuck with comics. So Joe went his way, and Jack went his way. They both had families to support, so they did the best they could. It was just economics.
TJKC: Let's talk some more about Jack's work habits. You said that he liked to work late at night. Was that from the very beginning?
ROZ: From the day I met him, he always worked in the evenings. When he came back from the service, we were living with my mother until we were able to get our own place. We had the bedroom, and he worked there. I'd go to bed, and the baby was sleeping, and he'd be working all night long. That's the way he liked it. And the funny part of it is, even when we moved to our own place, he always liked to have voices around him. He'd have the TV picture going, and the sound turned down so he could see action. Then he'd have the radio going to hear the voices. (laughter)
TJKC: Did you ever get to take any nice vacations together?
ROZ: When the kids were older, Jack and I went to Israel, before he passed on, about eight years ago. That was great, because he always wanted to go there, to see the Wall. He put a note in the Wall, so I said to him, "What did you write?" And he says, "Thanks for the vacation." (laughter) We were there for about three weeks. We went with our temple, with a group of about 40 people. We had a great time, because they took us to the out-of-the-way places. We were up on the Gaza Strip, and right on the borders. It was very, very exciting. Everybody should do it. I'm glad that, before he passed on, he got to go on that trip that he wanted.
We went to Lucca, Italy, and got that award in the 1970s. We were invited to quite a few places, but Jack never liked to fly. He dreaded to fly. Even when we went to Israel, I had to practically get him drunk to get him on the plane. (laughter) He'd say he liked to put his feet on the ground. He hated being in a place where he didn't have any control.
TJKC: So the man who drew all these characters flying through the air...
ROZ: Right. He didn't like to fly. I'd say to him, "You're some super-hero." (laughter)
TJKC: How much inking did you do over the years?
ROZ: Well, when we were in my mother's house, in the bedroom, we had two tables there, and I would help him ink while the kids were sleeping. He would do most of the outlines, because his hand was steadier than mine, and he knew how to make it thick and thin. And you know how he's so good at putting in all his shading. He made it very easy for the inkers because he put in all the shading. It was very easy for me to just go over his shading lines.
TJKC: Do you remember which specific books you inked?
ROZ: You'd have to ask Mike Thibodeaux. He would know. (laughter) To tell you the truth, it's difficult for me to remember.
TJKC: Through the years, did you generally see what Jack was working on? Or were you too busy taking care of the kids?
ROZ: Oh, no. I always looked at his work. I'd tell him if I liked the story, or if I didn't like the story, or if I liked the drawings. I always put my input in. Of course, he still did what he wanted to do, (laughter) but I still gave him my opinion.
TJKC: But did he discuss the ideas with you as he was coming up with them?
ROZ: No, he never discussed the ideas, because he would sit down at the board, right? With the paper blank, he would just start drawing. I'd ask, "How do you know what the story is?" He'd say, "I know what the story is." Like when he was doing the trilogy - The New Gods - three books at one time, or four books. I said, "How do you know when one story starts and one story ends?" He says, "Because I just know." And that's the way he was. He'd put a hand in one panel, and a foot in another panel, and somehow it all came together.
I never saw him just sit and stare at the paper, and he never used a blue pencil. He just sat down there and drew away. If he found that he couldn't do it, he'd just keep away from the board. But that wasn't too often. I'd always say to him, "How do you think up these things?" He'd just say, "I don't know. I just do." I always said he was born before his time. I said I thought the aliens would come and pick him up and take him back. (laughter)
TJKC: It seems like everything he did was 30 years ahead of its time. Like in Jimmy Olsen, with the clones? Outside of a few scientists, I don't think that anybody knew about that stuff.
ROZ: Yes. And I would say to him, "How do you know all these things?" And he said when he was a boy he used to read a lot, and imagine things. My garage is filled with boxes and boxes of science fiction books.
TJKC: Did he find time to read through the years, even while he was drawing so much?
ROZ: He must've done it before he met me, because after I met him, I didn't see him read too many things. If he had to do a little research, he went to the library, but he didn't stay there too often. When I'd ask him what he'd been looking for, he'd say, "I don't know, I can't find it." And he'd go make up his own. (laughter)
TJKC: I've read that, as a child, he loved to go to the movies.
ROZ: Yes, he went to the movies every Saturday because it was ten cents, and his parents used to bring him to the theater. He loved movies, he loved acting. He wanted to be an actor as a young man, because he lived around the same neighborhood as John Garfield. That's why he liked Cagney, you know, those tough guys. The story is, his mother wouldn't let him go to California to become an actor, because there were naked women there. (laughter) I'm glad she didn't let him go, because I wouldn't have met him. (laughter)
TJKC: Did he still watch a lot of movies as the years went by?
ROZ: Yes. We didn't go to the movies that much, but he watched a lot of TV. Then when the kids were older, we used to rent a lot of movies. He'd rent about four movies a day. We'd go into the store, and the guy would say, "I don't know if I have any new ones for you, Jack." (laughter)
TJKC: Who was your favorite inker on Jack's work?
ROZ: The one I used to like very much was Joe Sinnott. And then of course, when Mike Royer started inking on Jack's stuff, I think Jack scared the hell out of him. He said, "Don't change anything!" So Mike didn't change one line. (laughter) He did everything exactly with the shadows where Jack put them. He did a good job.
TJKC: Steve Sherman told me that your son Neal has some very funny and scary stories about Jack driving the kids to school in New York.
ROZ: Well, you know, Jack's head was always in the clouds. He never concentrated on his driving. So he'd go over curbs. (laughter) There was one time where, it was daylight, the sun was shining, and he actually hit this police car in the back. (laughter) It didn't cause any damage. The officer got out and said, "What do you think you're doing?!" So of course Jack apologized and everything. The guy shook his head, and he didn't give him a ticket. He couldn't believe that he hit him in the middle of the day. (laughter)
The day before our wedding, Jack was driving his mother's car for some errands, and the dog was in the car. I think the dog threw up, so he hit a stanchion - it's like a big pole, like a double-layer; you have the top layer over the parkway, then you have the bottom layer. And if he hadn't hit that, he'd have gone flying down to the bottom part of it. That was the day before our marriage. So nobody ever wanted to drive with him. (laughter)
When we came to California, I said, "Forget it. You're not gonna get your driver's license." (laughter) I always say that's why we stayed married so long, because he couldn't go anyplace without me, I was doing the chauffeuring. (laughter)
TJKC: Tell me about the house you built in California.
ROZ: We bought the land, and we built this beautiful Spanish house from the plans. We had to do a lot with the lawyers and the builders, and finally got the thing built. And we lived over in Baranca. We lived on one level that looked down into a valley with a stream. There were these beautiful green acres, with sheep grazing there. Just beautiful. And after we were living there for awhile, all of a sudden we hear, "Vroooom! Vrooooooom!" All this noise! And these motorcycles were down there. We lived right on Baranca, and it's like a funnel, and Jack's studio is right overlooking it. The noise was so loud, it was terrible, and it went right into Jack's studio. We'd complain to MGM, who owned the property at that time. They said there wasn't anything they could do about it. Then we called the newspapers, and they took a picture of Jack pointing down into the valley. They called him Superman because they always said all the super-heroes were Superman. So the headline read, "Even Superman Can't Get Rid Of Them." (laughter)
We said we didn't mind the kids using their motorcycles down there, but to just put mufflers on them. But they wouldn't do it, and the police would go after them on their motorcycles, and we'd have double the noise! (laughter) And then finally they had a meeting, and the parents complained that, because of us, the kids were going to turn to drugs, because we were chasing them off their motorcycles. (laughter) So we lived there two years in this beautiful home. And I finally said, "It's no use. We can't take it anymore. I'm not gonna have Jack get sick." And we sold it after living there two years. (Editor's Note: Roz previously told me these motorcycle riders were the inspiration for the Outsiders gang in Jimmy Olsen.)
Lisa had a horse, because we always promised that if we moved to California, we'd get her a horse. So we built a little corral about 30 steps down, and she promised she'd clean it up, and she'd do this and that. So it ended up that Jack was down there pitching the horse manure over the fence every day. (laughter)
TJKC: At the motorcycle gangs? (laughter)
ROZ: Well, he couldn't reach that far, but between the motorcycles and pitching horse manure, that was the end of that house. (laughter)
TJKC: When did fans first start stopping by your house to visit Jack? In the late 1960s?
ROZ: Yes, that's when Shel Dorf started bringing everybody around. The first time Shel brought them, we were renting a house. We had just moved out to California, so we rented a condominium in Irvine. He brought up a whole crew from San Diego. I think the first convention they had was in a college. Shel started all this stuff, and look what they have now. 30,000, 35,000 people at the San Diego Convention? I liked the old ones better. We were able to sit around the pool and all of us talk until the wee hours of the morning, and we had a great time. Now it's so large, you don't get to see anyone. Everyone's at different hotels, and it's not the same.
TJKC: With all these people coming by the house, how did Jack get any work done? At one point, didn't you have a very steady stream of people coming through?
ROZ: There used to be a time where every weekend, we'd have people coming over. And finally my kids would complain, "God, we don't do anything!" (laughter) So finally I said to Jack, "Look, tell them they have to call first. If we have nothing to do, let them come. Otherwise, we have to start doing things with the kids."
I remember there was one family who was going cross-country in their Winnebago. They came up to the driveway; a mother, father, and three kids. They said, "Is this Jack Kirby's family?" I said yes. She says, "We're driving through, and we just wanted to shake Jack's hand." (laughter) It was about ninety degrees outside, it was July. So I said, "C'mon in a minute." I gave them some cold drinks, and there were young kids, ten or twelve years old. So I said, "Would you kids like to go for a swim?" They said, "Oh, great!" So they all went swimming, and I made them some sandwiches. So when they're ready to leave, the mother says, "I can't believe this. You're like regular people!" (laughter) I mean, we're not in Hollywood here! (laughter) So we always got along with everyone. When people would come, Jack would start telling them his war stories, and I'd walk out of the room because I'd heard them a million times. (laughter)
When fans came over, I was always sending out for food. I figured, "If people come to visit, I've got to give them something." (laughter) And they'd call constantly, and speak to him for two or three hours on the phone. And I'd yell, "Jack, the other phone's ringing!" But there was no other phone. (laughter) And then he'd get angry with me because I got him off the phone.
TJKC: Didn't it reach a point where all these people interfered with his work?
ROZ: Never did. He was always so fast. I don't know how he did it. He was always very fast.
TJKC: What's the most amazing thing a fan ever did to meet Jack?
ROZ: I don't know. There's been quite a few people coming up and... there's one couple that came in, and she fell into the pool with her brand new camera, and I felt so bad. (laughter) And then there was one group that came from Europe, I think there was about 30 of them. All 30 were walking around the house, and I sent down for 30 McDonalds meals. (laughter)
TJKC: How could you stand all this? I don't think I could handle that much of an imposition on my privacy.
ROZ: Well, I know that Jack enjoyed it, and as long as he enjoyed it... then after awhile, of course, I cut down quite a bit. But at the beginning it was a big novelty. Sometimes there'd be a couple that would be pesty, that wouldn't let go, you know. And I'd have to say, "He's not here" or something like that when they're on the phone. But that wasn't too often.
TJKC: I heard that a guy once hitchhiked there and stayed at your house.
ROZ: Oh yes. Remember when they had this thing in the papers about these aliens coming down for these people? These two guys called themselves "The Sun" and "The Moon" or something. They came to the house, they were clean-cut, shaven, had short haircuts. They'd left their wives, sold their businesses, and they were going up to Oregon or somewhere to wait for the ship. And they came to take Jack along with them. (laughter) I said to Jack, "What are you talking about? Why did you let these people in?" Jack said, "Well, they looked pretty good." (laughter) So we gave them oranges and a couple of bucks, and took them over to the freeway so they could hitchhike up to Oregon.
We had this young kid who ran away from home and joined the circus, and he came over to the house. So we let him sleep over, then we put him on a bus to go home. (laughter) So we had all those crazy experiences.
TJKC: When did Jack start working on his novel The Horde?
ROZ: Oh, God. He worked on that novel when we first moved here. It must've been 17 or 18 years ago. He did about 350 pages, and then he got scared, because he said every time he was writing something, it was coming true in the newspapers. And he was so sure that he was going to end the world! (laughter) But his mind was so... he just saw into the future. It wasn't written like a comic book. The words are so beautiful. My cousin is a teacher, and she said he's just as good as any of the well-known writers. But he scared himself when he started writing it. And he never wanted to finish it, and it always frustrated me because I wanted it finished. He just put it down.
TJKC: Will more stories from it eventually be printed?
ROZ: Yes, some things are in the works. We're not sure yet which direction we want to go. So we'll see.
TJKC: Did Jack's religious beliefs come out a lot in the stories he created?
ROZ: Oh yes. You need to know he wasn't a religious man who would go to the temple every day and on weekends like his father did. He still believed in his faith, and he liked to read the Bible. He liked to read about the gods and things like that. He enjoyed drawing the gods the way he would see it. In his eyes, everything was so big. We'd go to the temple on holidays and New Year's and things like that, and I said, "Don't you think we ought to go more often?" And he said, "I love God, and I believe in God. And I'm still a good person even though I don't go into the temple." That's the way he felt. He was still good in his own heart, and he didn't have to go there to prove it. So I never forced him. But we went on holidays and things like that.
TJKC: Were any of Jack's characters ever based on you?
ROZ: I don't know. When he'd send me home pictures from the war, he'd have these beautiful drawings. I said, "That's not me." He says, "That's the way I visualize you." (laughter) I thought that was very sweet. He always liked big women. I'd say, "Am I that big?" (laughter)
TJKC: So he liked women shaped like the ones he drew?
ROZ: Yes. Do you know what the word 'zaftig' means?
TJKC: Oh, yeah!
ROZ: He liked soft women. (laughter)
TJKC: Well that explains why they all look that way in his books.
ROZ: Yes. (laughter)
TJKC: One last question. Is there one period that stands out in your mind as Jack's happiest creatively, or when you were both the happiest together?
ROZ: Well, that's a very difficult question. Every period had highs and lows. I guess when the kids started coming, those were kind of our happiest. We didn't make a fortune, but we always had a nice house and nice friends and family around. He was creating things, but there wasn't all this stuff going on with "who did this" and "who did that." We didn't have all that on our heads. We were young then, and had less pressure.
TJKC: As for being creatively fulfilled, what about when he first went to DC in 1970, and it looked like he could do anything he wanted?
ROZ: Yes, it's probably then, when he was doing the New Gods series, and everybody left him alone, and he was able to put it down on paper, and they didn't bother him too much. If he said something, they'd say, "Okay, Jack." And they left him alone that way. And either it was good, or it wasn't good, and he'd get lots of opinions. Some people hated his writing and some people loved it. Not everyone likes everything. But he always said he'd always do the best he could.
TJKC: Roz, thanks so much for taking time to do this interview.
ROZ: I enjoyed it.
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