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.

Jack Kirby's Train of Thought

Excerpts from the Kirby interview in Train of Thought #5, 1971.

From Jack Kirby Collector #17

(Editor's Note: This interview was conducted just after Jack launched the Fourth World books, and offers a fascinating glimpse into his thoughts at this early stage of the characters' development.)

JACK KIRBY: The idea of the Anti-Life Equation is that all Darkseid has to do is say a word and you become a slave. That's what he's after. He likes that and the fact that he likes that makes him valid, see? Because he exists and his idea exists, so why the hell shouldn't that be valid? That's the way Darkseid looks at things, and he's going to get what he wants in his own way. He's very ruthless and he's very smart.

TRAIN OF THOUGHT: Infinity Man seems as powerful as Darkseid, and even a lot more powerful than Superman.

KIRBY: No, he's not as powerful as Darkseid. Well, he has intense power, but Darkseid is, as the story unfolds... I mean, his powers are almost as great as Darkseid's, but there's something about Darkseid that is universally overpowering. He is evil itself, or what we consider evil.

TOT: In about three issues of Jimmy Olsen, you've changed the entire image of Superman. Are you going to continue to use Superman?

KIRBY: Yes I am. Superman will continue as a character in many of these stories. In the first story we thought that it would be important to use him and see how relative he would be to that kind of thing. And Superman is relative. Superman has, despite the fact that he is a super-being, emotions just like everyone else. He's not a robot. If I were a super-being, I'd just be a human being with super-powers, which is the way I see Superman. He's a human being with super-powers and he can be lonely; he has emotions, he can be in love, he can hate people. He hates evil.

TOT: That would be the same idea as at Marvel wouldn't it? You know, that super-heroes have feelings and all that.

KIRBY: Yes, but Superman is invincible, and Superman is the first super-being to come into literary life. There he is alone. That's the way I see him. If I were a Superman among two billion people, despite the fact that I was a super-being, I'd feel pretty insecure. For instance, say I was a white hunter in Africa and I were to walk into a cannibal village. Despite the fact that I had a gun and they didn't, despite the fact that I had ammunition and they didn't, I'd feel pretty insecure, despite the fact that I could probably shoot my way out. Superman is alone in our world.

TOT: What's this new change in Superman? Is he going to be weaker than he used to be?

KIRBY: No, not weaker, but he's going to be a real person with super-powers against other people with super-powers. And there's not only going to be other people with super-powers but ordinary people who, although they don't have super-powers, may have to make super-efforts. Which I think is a good thing. I think the noblest part of man is the fact that he could transcend himself if he really tried. I mean, man is a very pliable object. It's been proven that you can put a man in 120 degrees of heat, hold him there for a certain amount of time and this guy - he's not going to walk out chipper, but he's going to walk out. Man has been subjected to what they might call 'killing stress' and he's walked out of that. In fact, I underate stress. Man can do something we might consider a super-act. Man can bend steel, and under stress he might be able to bend some even more intractable object. Man with training can perform super-acts. In other words, man can transcend himself in many ways. You take a man like Leonardo Da Vinci, who transcended the ordinary by so many different accomplishments in so many different fields because he was a curious man who made a super-act out of his own curiosity. He was a master painter, a master architect, and I'm not talking about an ordinary mechanic. He was a master at everything he did because he had that transcendent quality of making a super-act of whatever he did, because he had insatiable curiosity.

Who is to say that man hasn't got the power to become a super-being because we happen to be in a time period where men certainly aren't super-beings? The possibility exists mentally, physically, and possibly even other ways. We just can't see right now. So why not ordinary people contending with Superman? That's what I've got in the stories. I'm going to have ordinary people engaged in great efforts that make them more than they are, and super-beings with super-powers deciding that it may be more fun to be a human being. There may come times when it's wrong to use a super-power, or weak to use a super-power. Darkseid himself - the villain of the piece - at one point decides not to use his power because he's a professional and he feels that he's using his powers on a second-rater, and it would demean his own profession to use that power, so Darkseid will not harm him. Darkseid lets his victim go saying that it would denigrate his own abilities to destroy that man. Darkseid, although he's evil, is too much of an admirer of his own power or his own stature to denigrate himself. He won't do it.

TOT: It seems like you've created another character like Doctor Doom; he's evil, but he has his own code.

KIRBY: Of course. Some of the most virtuous men are murderers by the fact that they stick to their own principles. Hitler was a virtuous man in the context of his own principles. He initiated a pretty dirty hour as far as humanity was concerned, but the idea is that he did it for his own reasons. They were mad reasons, but he felt that he was sticking to his principles. So even an insane man may have an insane code of ethics. Some people will kill for second-rate reasons and that makes their act even more monstrous. The fact that a man will kill for a little money or kill for unnecessary reasons as the thrill of it might be looked down upon by a professional killer. He wouldn't kill for a few dollars or for the thrill of it. The professional murderer would kill for good money and good reasons and he would consider himself a craftsman. As Darkseid does. Darkseid is very evil. He's the equivalent of a mass murderer, but he wouldn't waste his super-powers on just one individual. He wouldn't go out of his way just to kill one man; it would be ridiculous. He wouldn't do it. He'd just walk away. That's how my villains think.

TOT: Why is Earth so important to him?

KIRBY: Because Earth becomes a testing ground. This is where we have thinking animals, and there's the principle of Anti-Life. If someone took control of your mind and you were not able to think as yourself any longer, you would no longer be yourself. You'd be something in his command. You as an individual would be dead. That's Anti-Life. In other words, if you gave yourself to some cause, and gave up everything as an individual and you were at the beck and call of some leader, you would be dead as an individual. And that's what Darkseid wants. He wants control of everybody. If it was snowing outside and you weren't wearing any shoes and it was 38 degrees below zero and this guy says, "Go out and get me a bologna sandwich," you have to go through all that; you obey him automatically, you obey him meekly. You walk out without a coat and you freeze to death. He doesn't care. You do it anyway despite the fact that you don't want to do it. You're dead as an individual. You have no choice. You can't object and you have no stature as a person. You're dead. A slave is a dead man. That's what Darkseid wants. Darkseid wants complete subjugation of everything at a word - his word. He wants every thinking thing under his control.

I believe it's an evil concept but he doesn't think so. Not if he's Darkseid. If you had the power you might not dislike the idea. Every-body sees the world from where they sit. It may be uncomfortable for the next guy but you think it's great. The right idea to Darkseid is anything that benefits him. He isn't going to worry about you. He sees the world from where he sits, and of course what he sees is big. He's a big man. Darkseid is a tremendous, powerful, evil figure, and he's going to see everything in a cosmic view. He's not going to see a view of the candy store around the corner or what's playing at the Palladium next week. Darkseid is going to see everything in an over-powering cosmic view, and of course what else would he want but complete subjugation of everything? Earth is included in that everything, and my concept is that somewhere on Earth is someone who can solve the Anti-Life Equation, and Darkseid is after that poor soul. He shakes up everything. He shakes up cities and creates all kinds of plots.

TOT: Does he have any equal, or is he the most powerful?

KIRBY: No actually, he's not the most powerful, but he's the most relentless. In other words, Darkseid is strictly a first-rater. I don't classify gods as far as their power goes. I classify them as far as their personality goes. Each god, if he used his power right, could defeat another god. If I used my power right I could defeat anyone on Earth if I wanted to. As a man, if I used my physical strength at its best, I could overpower anybody I wanted to. If I did it right. It's the same way with the gods. If they used their super-powers right, they could defeat any other god. Darkseid is no different except that Darkseid is an evil guy with a lot of class. He's the kind of guy that might outthink you, and with super-powers involved it could be in a very dangerous and earthshaking way.

TOT: Have you ever thought of creating a hero that was nonviolent?

KIRBY: The Forever People are nonviolent. The Forever People are a challenge to comics, I feel, because although they're engaged in violent activities, they never fight. The nearest they come to fighting is this fella, Big Bear, who is just so strong that he could lean against a pole and that's it. The Forever People are a challenge to see how nonviolence can work in comics. I feel that nonviolence coupled with some kind of sustaining influence can work in comics. I don't feel that you have to show blood and gore and guts. I think it's repellent. I've seen enough of it in its reality, and it's just as repellent when it's drawn as in reality. I see nothing of any value in anything that has what you call shock value. I see nothing in that except using that sort of thing to prove a point. In other words if you're making an anti-war document or if you're trying to tell the truth about a certain subject, and the blood and gore was a part of that subject, I wouldn't omit it. If I were going to make an exposé on anything I would show anything connected with it. For instance, in a gangster movie I would show the results of being a gangster-the life activities as well as the end and death. I would show exactly how it is they ended. I would show the bullet holes because it's part of the picture, but I wouldn't exploit it for its value alone. I see no entertainment in that sort of thing.

TOT: Do you think you'll be able to appeal to the little kids as well as the serious readers?

KIRBY: Of course, it's a problem. I know I might fail at it, but I'm trying to make it a universal thing if I can. That's a challenge in itself. It's a heavy subject. The god stuff always was. I'm trying to put something into it to give it an affinity to the times themselves. I feel these are times when that kind of thing is felt. These are times when we're all operating on the edge of holocaust, Apokolips, and everybody is living with the bomb. It's a strangelove kind of time, so I felt that the characters might reflect that sort of thing. There's the problem of making all your characters different. There's the problem of making them reflect everything that is good or bad inside of us. Our weaknesses and our strengths, and our potential for good and evil. It's enormous. I'm trying to get all that across in an entertaining sort of way. Of course I can't do it all in three or four issues. At Marvel it took five years, and my problem was that I couldn't do a simple story - I had to create an instant world in each magazine. An instant world with everything in it to get the ball rolling. Say, if I had done a foreign intrigue story. Just a story say of a stolen diamond or a stolen national secret of some kind. The hero would have to go after it and there would be a lot of gimmickry and a lot of shooting. Yet to have an individual story you'd establish a single character. You wouldn't know where he came from, or what he was really like. You might have to wait out an entire series of books until you really knew anything about him. I could've gone that route, but I was forced to go the other way. I'm coming in from the other end. I'm coming in with the whole ball of wax, which I have to unravel. I could've come in with just one character and developed his friends, but from what I've done here you know everybody. You know where they came from. You don't know exactly what kind of world it is but you know it isn't like Earth. You don't know what kind of powers they have but you know they have powers. You know there's a war going on between good and evil. You've got that all in one issue. What I have to do is separate the individual action from the mass action. In other words, there might be an adventure with just Darkseid or one of the Forever People, but you'll know them. You'll know what kind of people they are from the first issue.

TOT: On the way up here we were talking about the Forever People and the way I see it, when you consolidate these kids they become Infinity Man. But the message is: Join together in brotherhood and you become one solid force of good.

KIRBY: Yes. And of course there could be a solid force of evil too. These same people can have equal, evil counterparts. A poet doesn't always have to be good. You take Ezra Pound; he was a poet in the classic sense, he was a fine poet. Nothing wrong with his poetry except he was a Nazi. He had a different view than we did. You have a picture there of a poet, but a different type of poet. Of course with other types of people you've got corresponding types. That's what the New Gods and the Forever People will try to say. That there's good and bad in all of us. We have to face them both, and sometimes we have to make a decision between each. It's nothing we can avoid. It's nothing we can rant against. Each individual has to make his own decision on it.

The Forever People, as I said before, is a reflection of our times like the New Gods. We live in a time where we have the bomb and the apocalypse all around us. Somebody is always talking about holocaust and about the whole thing blowing. Then we live in the kind of time where everybody says, "Well, that doesn't have to happen. We're gonna do great. We're gonna take all of these things that we make for destruction and we're going to do good things and build up some kind of universal brotherhood." Now that may happen too. I think that's a good thought. I have these two worlds, Apokolips and New Genesis. There could be a New Genesis for all I know. That's the way I see it. It's heavy stuff of course, but I think it's going to have to unravel to become the kind of thing it is. I'm going to have to unravel all the characters so that you really get to know them and know what their powers are. For instance this kid in a cowboy hat, Serifan, isn't just a kid in a cowboy hat because it isn't a cowboy hat. The others have other gimmicks. What I've done is come in with the whole ball of wax, plopped it down, and I'm going to ask everyone's patience to allow me to unravel it.

TOT: Is Mark Moonrider Mark Evanier?

KIRBY: No, nobody is any definable person that I'm acquainted with.

TOT: Earlier you were talking about how anybody, if they had the training and really put forth the supreme effort, could do almost anything. Is this the kind of character you want to show in this Mister Miracle guy?

KIRBY: Yes. Mister Miracle is a superbly professional craftsman. He's a superb escape artist. He's a cool character. He'll play it cool to the very end. I have a scene where it looks like he's going to get killed, and it's going to happen in seconds, but he just lays there deliberately trying to see how fast he can get out of there. He wants to see if he can beat those few seconds because he's a professional. That's what makes him a super escape artist. He'll put his life on the line to see how well he can do his craft. That's the kind of guy he is. He'll bet you $10,000 that he can get out of any trap you devise. If you lose you pay him ten thousand bucks. He puts his life on the line, but that's his trade.

TOT: We consider Darkseid evil and ourselves good. Does Darkseid consider himself good and the other way of life evil?

KIRBY: Yes. Darkseid considers anything evil that's going to stop him. If you stop me, I consider you evil.

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