Jack Kirby Collector 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.

Wow-What An Interview!

A rare Italian interview from the 1970s, translated by Fabio Paolo Barbieri

From Jack Kirby Collector #12

Nessim Vaturi, an Italian fan, interviewed Jack Kirby during jack's trip to Lucca, Italy in 1976. Before taping started, Kirby told Vaturi he was particularly happy about this interview because his Italian fanzine was called WOW! COMICS! similar to one of Kirby's own early titles. The interview was only published in Italian; the original is not available, so Fabio Paolo Barbieri re-translated it back into English. If anything sounds odd, remember; this is a translation of a translation.

NESSIM VATURI: You said earlier that early in your career you used to work for a book called WOW!

JACK KIRBY: Yes, it was the first magazine I worked for. Jerry Siegel and Will Eisner used to publish it. They were my bosses back then, and those were the first years of comics, and WOW! What A Magazine was one of the first comic magazines. Many of the artists who worked in it went on to create great features of their own, as we were to see. People call this the Golden Age of comics - I mean the Forties.

NV: Do you remember anyone?

KIRBY: Yes, I remember all the people who were there. There was Eddie Herron, who created Captain Marvel, and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They worked for DC from the beginning, they came on the scene when everything had just been created and everyone ran around from one company to another. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster came along, they found their place at DC and stayed there. I was a nut... if another company offered me more, I went, so I leaped around like a fly; maybe this was a good thing after all, because it allowed me to work in different organizations, and meet different people.

NV: After working for WOW, where did you go?

KIRBY: I worked for Jumbo; I did a "part feature," one of the first sorcery strips, called "The Diary of Dr. Hayward." I've still got the book; my mother kept it. But I'm not a collector, a hobbyist or a specialist. I'm a doer; that's what you can call me. I do things and then forget about them. But mothers, you know, they are proud, and I think if you did something like that, your mother also would store your stuff; that's how mothers are! In my neighborhood, you know, they didn't even know what an artist was; to be someone, you had to be a car mechanic, and so when I became an artist, people couldn't understand, they thought I was mixed up in something illegal.

NV: After Jumbo, what did you do?

KIRBY: After Jumbo, I started to gravitate towards more stable and secure magazines, that were just then coming out; things like Atlas Comics, which later became Marvel. And then of course I did some things for DC, and some things for a man named Victor Fox. Victor Fox's name might have come out if you interviewed any artist my age who worked in the first years of comics. He was a publisher, he published Weird Comics, and in general books with names like Weird, Pow, Hit. And there were publishers like "Busy" Arnold who had their own companies... many of those companies and groups have vanished; today only Marvel and DC are left.

NV: You have enormous experience. How are comics made in America? We know there is a staff work system.

KIRBY: What they did was to organize a way to share work among several people; you can have a letterer, an inker, then there is a colorist who puts in the color for the printers, and then of course you have the penciler, and he is the artist. If the artist had to do all those things, he would never get the time to do all the work, so all these people are necessary.

NV: Clearly the inker matters too.

KIRBY: Yes, sure, a good inker with an attractive style can make the artist's work look very good, but obviously the main element is the penciler. The penciler is the one who tells the story, who visualizes it. It's not a writer's medium, a letterer's medium, an inker's medium, it's just... the penciler tells the story, as I said; the writer could write his heart out, and be one of the finest writers in the world, but if he gets the wrong artist doing his story for him, it dies; that is, the decisive factor is the artist.

Take for instance your own magazine WOW. The first thing you see is the drawing, and that tells you what the product is. You remember LIFE Magazine? They used to have terrific writers in LIFE, but what used to sell the magazine were the photographs. The best photographers sold the magazine, the most striking pictures... it was that kind of product.

NV: How did you start to do comics?

KIRBY: I started out as an animator in the Max Fleischer studio; that is, not really an animator, but an "in-betweener." I say animator because it sort of gives an idea of what I worked on; but it's not really the right word, maybe. The animator is the guy who controls the entire production, while I, I was seventeen or eighteen at the time. I only worked on a light table and did in-between poses so the character could move on the board.

I did that for a bit, but then the studio decided to relocate to Miami and I stayed in New York and did other things. I used to work for a small newspaper syndicate that supplied 700 newspapers. I did sports cartoons, editorial cartoons and comic books. I think this experience gave me what I needed, a starting point to tell a whole story in comics, which I later did in comic books.

NV: Is there a special reason why you chose comics?

KIRBY: I don't know. I think none of us knows clearly why he is drawn to some things. I know I used to love storytelling. At least my mother loved it. She was a wonderful storyteller, she had come from "Frankenstein country" and knew all these horror stories, and they used to make my hair stand on end; and this may have been decisive... I used to love doing that sort of thing, because you get a response from people; I think my mother wanted a response from me. In other words, if your mother wanted your attention for something, she might shout at you or box your ears; or she might tell you a story, like mine used to do with me.

NV: Maybe it's the best way.

KIRBY: I think so too.

NV: You have written your own stories, text and drawings?

KIRBY: Yes, That's what I always do and That's what I'm doing now.

NV: So nobody writes your scripts.

KIRBY: No, never.

NV: How do you feel about Italian comics?

KIRBY: All European comics have a flavor ours haven't. Americans are fairly straightforward people, they get to the point fairly quickly. Europeans on the other hand seem to like to linger a bit more with life. They like looking at life in its various aspects, and they observe... I think they are more perfectionistic than we are. I noticed many European artists are better than I am; that is they are better draftsmen, but l don't know whether they are better at telling a story than I am.

NV: Maybe the point is that you are very good at getting and keeping peoples attention.

KIRBY: Yes, because that is my job. My job is not to be a fine artist, no, it's not a matter of draftsmanship. No, I say the artwork is important, but it's not everything. I mean my job is to sell comics.

NV: Well, you do it very well.

KIRBY: Yes, because it's very simple. Many times I might draw a man without fingernails; I Couldn't care less about drawing fingernails if the reader is still paying attention to the story in spite of that. Because the nails aren't the point of the story, it's the drawing that leads them to the point, That's what matters. It may be a nose, it may be a foot, it may be anything.

NV: Are there any European or Italian artists you particularly appreciate?

KIRBY: I look at European artists as I look at American artists. I think, as I said, that nearly all of them do a great job. The fact is I don't speak European languages well enough to be able to follow the story and so I can't judge, but speaking only from an artistic viewpoint, they're great.

NV: Did any of the "masters" influence you?

KIRBY: Yes, there were three, that is naturally the big three: Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and Milton Caniff. Everybody regards them as masters. There were no art schools where you could go and study how to make comics; every man was a school for the next man. Maybe it was like that in the old days here in Italy, when people like, for instance, Michelangelo would have assistants and apprentices, and the people who came after them very likely were good artists too, and did good work. They were the school for later artists, and clearly their influence could be found in the work of artists who came after.

You'll find elements of Milton Caniff in my work, and the same goes for Alex Raymond, because I used to love what he did with the human figure, how harmoniously he managed to bend it. Therefore I followed him, like everyone did, but I also created a style of my own.

NV: And now you're going to be a model for the coming young people?

KIRBY: Yes, exactly. There may be something in my style that will suit other artists, so automatically it'll become their school. You don't have to pay a lot of money for a school; all you have to do is take a comic book and try to analyze the essential drawing methods I use.

NV: There are at last two ways to draw, that is "strips" that tell a story, or else composing a panel that goes maybe beyond...

KIRBY: Yes, it can be done, that is, do you mean balloons that come out of the normal panel, or... I have done some experiments with what they call format. Of course, I thought comics should be fairly broad, so I started using double page spreads. My drawing style is fairly broad too, so I still think so today; I think a comic book ought to be six feet tall, so the artist could go wild drawing it, and produce an impressive picture. This sort of comic book would have a big impact on the public. Classical painters had the advantage that they had gigantic panels available to them; they could work on an enormous canvas, and so they could produce paintings that impress people far more than what we do. Who, looking at a small panel, say two by three inches, could be as impressed as he would be in an art gallery?

NV: A fairly common question: What's your favorite character?

KIRBY: Maybe my answer will be fairly standard too, but I think if I indicated a character above the others I would denigrate them all, and therefore a bit of myself, a part of me. So when you see one of my characters you should know I put a lot of work in each of them, because I feel as though they were people. If I drew a portrait of you and neglected it, I would feel that something is missing, so I Couldn't make it less rounded and real than you are; I should be able to talk to him as if to a person.

NV: Right now we are seeing a lot of comics characters being transposed to the movie screen. Do you think That's valid?

KIRBY: Yes, absolutely, because it's a very dramatic sort of thing, and l think that the man who is to make the next mythology will be drawing from the comics. That is the origin of all our characters. Tarzan is a mythological character, like Samson or Thor or Hercules; they are all "superheroes."

NV: Do you think these transpositions would be better in animation or in live action?

KIRBY: Well, live actors would give them that extra dimension, they would be a lot more powerful than drawings. If I was to dress a man in a superhero costume, he would have twice the impact of a drawing, if he was the right man.

NV: Any messages for Wow's readers?

KIRBY: Well, I would tell them that they can't give up comics. And if they tried they wouldn't manage, because they can't give up comics any more than they can give up films and television; because this is a visual age, a time in which we perceive the world through images. If our TV is on the blink, we go to the cinema or buy a comic, because we all are always communicating, we communicate with images.

I hope that as they go on, comics will tell better and better stories, and greater too, to entertain people; because in the end all our existence here on earth is centered on spending time together. I think this is the reason there are comics, and the reason for comics or any other medium to exist is so we can entertain each other without beating each other over the head with clubs.

While Jack sketched the WOW! magazine cover drawing (see above), he commented that he draws Captain America with heavy, clenched fists; a lot of people blame him for drawing fists and such too square. He said it's because he is short; a big man might draw a more elegant character, whereas he draws him compact and muscular. From his perspective, That's how he sees him. As for women, he says his are big because he has always lived with women who were, in every sense of the word, large; all women in his family were handsome, but big. He is now drawing a Spanish woman in Captain America who is an imposing character, and therefore she must be drawn large. The talk ended with Kirby mentioning that he and his wife intended to visit Florence, and inviting the interviewer to visit him in America.

(Editor's note: To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Jack's Italian trip, I've accepted an invitation to have the TJKC Kirby art display shown at the 1996 International Comics Fair in Lucca (which runs Oct. 31 - Nov. 10). Then it will be displayed in Milan, Rome and Naples over a three-month period (with press coverage from the leading Italian newspapers), offering a rare opportunity for the Italian public to see Jack's work firsthand.)

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