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.

Excerpts from the 1997 Kirby Tribute Panel

Featuring Mark Evanier, Mike Royer, Steve Sherman, Marie Severin, and Al Williamson

Held 19 July 1997 at Comic Con International - San Diego. Transcribed by John Morrow.

From Jack Kirby Collector #17

(Editor's Note: Due to bad acoustics and problems with the PA system in the hall, large parts of my tape of this panel were inaudible. I've transcribed it as close to verbatim as possible, but in some instances I had to fill in stray words that didn't pick up, while trying not to alter the speaker's intent. My apologies to our speakers for the sections I had to omit entirely, and particularly to Marie Severin and Al Williamson; most of their comments didn't pick up on tape. These are just a few excerpts. The complete transcript is in TJKC #17.)

MARK EVANIER: The person I think whose association with Jack dates back the most is Al's. You had the experience of inking Jack at a time when you weren't an inker.

AL WILLIAMSON: That's correct. I went up to Harvey Publications around 1957, give or take a couple of years. The Editor, Joe Simon, didn't have any work for me, but he had a Jack Kirby five-page science fiction story, and asked if I would like to ink them. They inked themselves; I had no problem. I took them in, they liked them, they gave me three or four more, and that was it. I don't think they were printed right away, because I never saw them until the 1960s.

MARK: You were familiar with Jack's work already?

AL: Oh, sure. I lived in South America, in Bogota, Colombia. They didn't do any comic books, but they imported a lot of comics from Argentina and Mexico. The very first Jack Kirby work I ever saw was a black-&-white reprint of a character called Cosmic Carson, and I thought it was just great, just wonderful. It was translated into Spanish. Then I discovered American comics, which didn't get down there too often, maybe one or two a month. I picked up my first American comic book, which was Famous Funnies, which had a one-pager called "The Lone Rider." That was the second strip; I knew it was the same artist. I discovered two friends who loved comics, and they were visiting from Panama, where they could get American comics much easier. They sent me two comic books: One was an issue of Young Allies. It was just incredible. All I remember about it was a double-page spread of the most exciting, exquisite fight scene I've ever seen. I've never seen that comic book since; I don't know if it exists, or if it's my imagination. If anybody has it, I'd love to see it.

Y'know, he just grabs you, right from the beginning. I think he and Wally Wood are probably two of the finest comic book artists that ever lived. Inking his work was quite a thrill for me, because first of all, he was the first artist I ever inked. He did all the work for me; I had no problem at all. I've been credited with inking a couple of covers and some jobs that I didn't ink. The only jobs I ever inked of Jack Kirby's were those science fiction stories: "The Three Rocketeers." So my apologies to whoever inked those panels or those covers; they should've gotten credit.

MARK: Marie, when did you first meet Jack? At Marvel?

MARIE SEVERIN: Yeah. I'd heard of him, and I'd seen some of his work; wow, this guy was powerful! I'd say it was in 1964. I was in the Bullpen - well, I was the Bullpen - and I came tearing around the corner and I almost banged into him, and Sol Brodsky said, "This is Jack Kirby." And I said, "Oh, hi!" And he looked at me and said, "Judy Garland!" (laughter) And I was so upset because I always wanted to look like Mary Astor. (laughter) And that's a far cry from Judy Garland!

MARK: That's the same thing he said to me! (laughter) I was wearing red shoes at the time.

MARIE: When I first came there, Stan didn't even look at my portfolio; he threw me into the Bullpen to do paste-ups. When I started drawing, Stan said, "Get the feel of Kirby." And maybe, maybe, maybe I could get the feel, but I'll never draw like that; he's so powerful! And as a woman, I recognized this tremendous strength - and talk about fight scenes! It was great to color it; I loved coloring the stuff. It brought out emotion. It was like you were part of it. So I finally tried to figure out why he drew it that way, and it came together. I was never skilled enough to draw the anatomy the way he did. People tried to copy him, and it looks awkward to me. He did it and it worked.

When he left Marvel, Stan nearly had a heart attack. (laughter) It was supposed to be a big secret. And there was some sort of a convention the day Jack came back, and it was supposed to be an even bigger secret. I came up to the office and I saw Jack, and Stan put a page in front of my face and said, "You did not see any of this!" (laughter) And I said, "Okay, I did not see any of this" and I went out in the hall and yelled, "Kirby's back!" (laughter)

MARK: Steve, what do you remember about meeting Jack?

STEVE SHERMAN: I remember when he moved out and he lived in Orange County, and going up the stairs; there in this empty bedroom was this drawing table, and nothing else in it except Jack's taboret. And Jack was just drawing away on a Thor story. It's Jack Kirby; wow! He was the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet.

One funny story though; Jack really wanted to start a West Coast division of DC, and he had to do it without any money. The staff consisted of himself, Roz, Mark, and myself. At the time DC was going to reprint old horror, mystery and romance stories. They asked Jack, "Can you handle that?" "Yeah, yeah." So they sent Jack these comic book-size pages of old DC stories. What we had to do was white-out the clothes they were wearing, white-out the faces, and update everything. We got a bunch of white-out, and went back to Mark's house and we started whiting out the faces, the dialogue balloons, and everything. That was a big mistake, because there's no way you can draw over the white-out. We tried, and they looked horrible. We were tearing our hair out, going, "What have we done?!" So sheepishly we went back to Jack, and he said, "Okay." And that's when he called Mike. You had to put those things on the light box, right?

MIKE ROYER: I must've had a dozen romance stories, all drawn in the late 1940s and '50s, and my job was to put bell-bottoms on them, (laughter) and contemporary hairdos on all of them. So I drew it all on the light board on typing paper, inked it, and rubber cemented it down over the other pages. But it was the most godawful assignment. I felt I was performing this vile operation on these patients who hadn't asked for it. (laughter) It just didn't work! I still have in my closet, copies of this giant romance annual I did, and it's just godawful!

MARK: Jack decided that, having started romance comics, he would now end them. (laughter) Steve, do you remember the dinner when Jack created The Demon sometime between the time we ordered and the time we finished? (laughter)

STEVE: That escapes me. The thing with Jack is, it'd come so fast to him. I remember one evening just sitting with him, and I'd just read the book Rendezvous With Rama. I'm sitting talking to Jack about flying saucers and things like that, and Jack always claimed he could see UFOs from his picture window in Thousand Oaks, and you'd believe it. And in the space of about 45 minutes, Jack'd come up with 13 different stories about flying saucers and people meeting them; an entire series. Complete stories, telling me about the characters, the beginning, the middle, the end, the whole thing. It was just amazing.

MARK: We did a couple of things for Jack where he'd officially let us write an issue. So we'd spend three of four days working on a plot, we'd take it out to Jack, tell him the story, and he'd say, 'That's great. Now add this. That's great." And he'd add all these other things into it, and we wound up with a completely different story than we'd started with. (laughter) Then we'd go off and write it up and take it out to Jack, and he'd go, "This is great. This is absolutely perfect. You guys did a great job." And he'd sit down and use absolutely none of it. (laughter) Then he'd figure out he hadn't used any of it, so he'd go back and find one line of dialogue we'd written, and he'd put it in. (laughter) And when we came back to look at the pages, he'd go, "See, there's your line there." (laughter)

STEVE: It all came from his head. Maybe occasionally there was a scrap of paper with something written on it; a name or descriptions, but other than that, when he sat down at the table and started to - I shouldn't say 'draw', because he was writing and drawing at the same time. The pencil would go down, and he'd start, and maybe an hour-and-a-half later there'd be a page. And it would be all broken down into story, and he'd go on to the next page. And he always ended up with 22 pages. It always had a beginning, a middle, and an end. When he was at DC, you have to remember he did that seven days a week, four weeks out of the month. He'd do one book, 22 pages, in seven days, finish it and go to the next book with entirely different characters and different stories, and the next one, and the next one, and go back, and keep knocking them out.

MARK: Steve and I at the time were enormous fans of Don Rickles. Like many people at that time who were our age, we all went around doing Don Rickles, insulting each other. Rickles used to say, "I never picked on a little guy, I only pick on big guys." Somehow this gave us the idea that we should have Don Rickles make a cameo appearance in Jimmy Olsen to insult Superman. It was gonna be like a three-panel thing. So we wrote out a couple of pages of Don Rickles insults. One of them was, "Hey, big boy, where're you from?" And Superman says, "I'm from the planet Krypton." And Rickles says, "I got jokes for 8 million nationalities and I've gotta run into a hockey puck from Krypton." (laughter)

So we took these out to Jack; Jack was a big fan of Rickles. And he says, "That's great, that's terrific." And of course he used none of it. (laughter) He said we've gotta get permission from Don Rickles for this. So Steve contacted Rickles' publicist, and they gave us permission to have Don Rickles do a cameo. Then Jack tells Carmine Infantino about it, and Infantino thinks this is great, this is something promotable, it's gotta be a two-issue story arc. So instead of us writing two pages, it's now Jack writing two issues. And you all saw the end product was Goody Rickels. And if you look over the entire story, the one thing that's missing is there's not one panel where Don Rickles meets Superman. (laughter) He somehow never got that into the story.

AUDIENCE: There's a rumor that Jack was doing a romance book for DC. What's the story behind that?

MARK: Jack's contract for DC called for 15 pages a week minimum; he usually exceeded that. But he didn't want to be sitting there cranking out pages. He wanted to create new books. Steve and I were brought in because he wanted to have a staff of young people, local people, West Coast people. One of the ideas he had was a series of things he called the Speak-Out Series. It would be a series of magazines, as Jack envisioned them, that were going to be like Heavy Metal magazine, with full-color, real advertisements. He was very interested in getting into photo comics, too. He wanted to get name authors; get Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, to adapt their short stories. And DC looked at this concept, and essentially said, "Oh, this is a chance to do Creepy and Eerie," and turned it into black-&-white magazines which Jack would draw by himself. The first one he did was In The Days Of The Mob, and then he did Spirit World, which Steve and I did this weird photo-thing for; to this day we don't understand what we did with that thing. (laughter) And then they did the romance stuff. It was called True Divorce Cases. (laughter) An anti-romance comic. Steve and I wrote one story for it, and Jack wrote the rest. The one we wrote, he actually used about 10% of. (laughter)

He handed it in, and DC hated it. They hadn't figured out True Divorce Cases would be about divorce. (laughter) There was one story in it about a black couple, and somehow this evolved into a new comic called Soul Romances, or Soul Love. We did three more stories; the idea was we took one story out of True Divorce Cases, so we didn't do two complete books; one story was common to both books. Jack wrote most of it. We got him copies of Ebony for reference, and it was some of his best art of the period. He sent it in; the first thing he got back was negative feedback that DC didn't feel they could market it unless the book was done by black writers and artists. They were talking about putting a pseudonym on it; like somebody else would want it. (laughter) Every book had to have a pull-out poster in it. In The Days Of The Mob had this poster of John Dillinger that I pasted up on my drawing board. It's a total fraud poster, (laughter) but it looked pretty good. So, they showed Soul Love to some distributor who said, "I can't handle that, it's too ethnic." (laughter) The poster that was gonna be in it was going to be of Roberta Flack, who at that time had an album coming out on Atlantic Records, which was affiliated with DC somehow. I'm not making any of this up! (laughter) So they sent the stats of the comic to Roberta Flack's manager, and either the manager, or Roberta, or her publicist, or someone from her end of things came back and said, "We think the black people look too ethnic; the lips are too big." And they were perfectly fine. So they gave the book to - you'll excuse the expression - Vince Colletta, (laughter) and said, "Make these people white." He used to leave out buildings; here he left out lips! (laughter) Colletta was told to make the men more like Sidney Poitier, and to make the women more like Diahann Carroll. I'm not sure if he had inked the book before this order came down and he then went back and retouched the pages, or if he merely inked with this in mind. In either case, he knocked down the black characteristics. In my opinion, the final art was very bland compared to what Jack had penciled. When we got through it all, DC said to us, "Okay, this is great, we'll schedule it right away," and they never mentioned it again. (laughter) In the meantime they put out Spirit World and In The Days Of The Mob, and before the first ones even came out, they decided not to continue the project.

MIKE: Tell them about Super World. This _publication - Super World - had all these names that were in the prototype issue that should be trademarked and copyrighted. Can't you just imagine the script for a heroine named "Helen Damnation"? (laughter)

STEVE: The full name was Super World Of Everything. At one point it was called Uncle Carmine's Fat City Comix. (laughter) It was going to be a cross between an underground comic and Rolling Stone. The reason we came up with that was because Jack wanted to get off the comic book newsstand and on the magazine newsstand, and he wanted everything to be big. So the only thing we could think of was to do it Sunday newspaper size, tabloid size. It was gonna be the size of Kirby Unleashed. And we figured out a way they could print it on the DC presses just like a comic book, but without the color covers, and just one fold and one cut; something like that. Anyway, we did it and it was very economical, and we figured out a way they could get advertising from Coca-Cola and people like that who weren't advertising in comic books at the time. We did a mock-up, and Jack did Galaxy Green; Steve Ditko did a strip called Gemini.

MARK: Marie was going to do a strip. Steve and I had this idea about an old retired silent movie star. And Jack came up with the greatest name for it: "Emile Fadeout." (laughter) We just made up these little mock-ups; two or three pages each. A bunch of DC people were at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and we presented it all to them, and they looked at us like we'd grown antlers. (laughter)

STEVE: Jack had a great sense of humor, too. The cover for In The Days Of The Mob #2; remember that cover? Jack drew it up; it was gonna be a photo cover of a gangland killing. We actually shot the photo, using us and Jack's son Neal and his daughter Barbara. We lined them up, and they all had guns to Mark's head. (laughter) Mark was bound and gagged and was going to be killed in the fields of Thousand Oaks. (laughter)

AUDIENCE: I was wondering if Marie could elaborate, since you were around when Jack left Marvel the first time, what that was like. How much notice did Marvel have? It seemed like it happened overnight.

MARIE: Being in the Bullpen, I was not privy to any of the stuff that went on. There was the surge of, "Well, he's gone. Did you see what he's doing? It's terrible, it's terrible. It is terrible, isn't it? Oh my God, please let it be terrible." (laughter)

STEVE: It had to have happened pretty fast, because when Jack stopped drawing for Marvel, he had to immediately start drawing for DC. There was that three-month gap, so as soon as he finished that last Fantastic Four, he just immediately started drawing the new stuff.

MARK: He mailed in an issue, and he called Stan on a Friday that coincided with the arrival of the issue. Stan's unpacking the package and hears, "Jack's on line two." And he started at DC the following Monday.

The first time Steve and I went to DC, the first issues of New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle, and In The Days Of The Mob had already been turned in, and they were keeping them under lock and key. Carmine calls us into his office and closes the door, because the other people at DC were not allowed to know about the books. It was an absolute secret, what they were about. Julius Schwartz stopped us in the hall and said, "What's this new Kirby book about?" So we called Jack that night and said, "They're doing a wonderful job keeping your books secret. They're keeping them under lock and key at DC. Nobody knows what's going on." The next day we're up at the Marvel offices, and there are (Jack's) pages pinned all over doors. Vince Colletta had been xeroxing them and taking them up there. (groans, laughter) And about three months later, Jack needed a page from Forever People that he'd already sent in for reference; this was before Jack got his copier. And we called DC and said, "Can you send out page two of Forever People #2?" And they could not do it, so I called the secretary at Marvel, and she pulled it off the wall, xeroxed it, and mailed it to me. (laughter)

AUDIENCE: Could you talk about why he left Marvel, and why he came back?

MARK: In the biography I'm doing, I devote about forty pages to it. When he was working for Marvel, he created this wonderful empire, and he was not being credited or compensated adequately in his opinion, and in almost everyone else's opinion as well. When Jack went to DC, he hoped things would be better; they certainly couldn't have been worse for him. I don't know if was any happier, but there was no place else.

STEVE: I think what Jack realized at the time was that Marvel was suddenly getting very, very big. The Goodmans were going to sell out to a corporation, and Jack sort of saw himself getting pushed farther and farther away from what he'd done. And there wasn't anything he could do about it, because he'd had a personal relationship with Martin Goodman, but once he was out of it, Jack was basically a freelancer.

RICHARD KYLE (from audience): Jim Steranko told me that when Jack left Marvel, they called all of the artists in to the office and held up the Kirby covers to all of the comics, and everybody was trying to figure out how the covers worked; why this cover was a good cover as opposed to that one. Apparently during that time, Jack was really into the cover art; it meant something to him. When he went to DC, occasionally there's a very strong cover, but most of the time there isn't. And he changed his dynamics for covers. The focal center of the pictures change and he never went back to that.

STEVE: I think a lot of that is because at Marvel, he was pretty much left alone about what to put on the covers. Whereas at DC, Carmine was very much involved in the covers.

MARK: Carmine did the layouts for those covers. You see a lot of unpublished Kirby DC covers; Jack drew a cover, then Carmine designed his own cover for the same issue. I always felt Carmine and Jack were at the opposite ends of comic art; totally different approaches. Carmine never drew a figure leaping out at you, straight-forward. When he did fight scenes, Carmine's characters were always sort of after the punch, whereas Jack's would always throw the punch. I don't think it was possible for Jack to do a good cover over a Carmine layout; they were too diametrically opposed in their composition.

One time Carmine sent Jack an advance proof of a cover, and said this was the greatest cover ever done in the history of comics. It was a Neal Adams cover for one of those 100-page specials, with all the characters they ever had, all standing there posed. (Editor's Note: See the Neal Adams interview in this issue for a look at that cover.) Jack told Carmine on the phone he thought it was a dreadful cover, because you had all these action heroes standing around with their hands on their hips. (laughter) "They should be leaping out and jumping and fighting, and punching and smashing. And they all had the same physique, too. All your characters look alike." Carmine was very upset about that.

AUDIENCE: I noticed in The Jack Kirby Collector that a lot of later Thor covers were rejected. Why were they rejected?

MARIE: Because Stan didn't like them. (laughter) I didn't hear much about it, because I wasn't privy to the conversations; I was just doing my job. As for as rejection would go, it might be that a new Editor was helping Stan out. I don't know. It could be that Kirby drew some situation that was already appearing on another cover that month, a situation I try to solve by putting all the covers up on the wall, so we wouldn't be duplicating. Sometimes you could have a helicopter coming out of five covers, because all these guys worked at home. Maybe that's how it happened; a similar situation or a similar layout, or something like that. Because I couldn't imagine what would be wrong with his covers; he didn't do bad design.

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