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 Interview

Conducted by Glenn Danzig with Mike Thibodeaux in the early 1990s
Transcribed by Glen Musial

From Jack Kirby Collector #22

GLENN DANZIG: I'm doing an article on how the prices for your artwork have jumped, especially since I've been collecting, and it's kind of great. Is it gratifying to see people really appreciate your stuff now?

JACK KIRBY: It would be gratifying to anybody, to know that what you're doing is not only valuable but worthwhile. It appeals to people. That's immensely gratifying. I enjoy that feeling.

GLENN: Do you think there'll be another age like [the 1960s] again? That stuff was just so imaginative.

JACK: Certainly, of course. Because, as time goes on, changes come with new times and those changes have to be interpreted by the people of that particular period.

GLENN: Do you think there'll be Renaissance guys like you and Joe Simon and Stan Lee, who were under the gun and had to produce ten titles a month? These guys now do one book and they can't even get out twenty pages in a month.

JACK: At that particular time, the business was young. The routine was certainly not developed as well as it is today. So we did what we instinctively felt had to be done.

MIKE THIBODEAUX: You still had the quality, though; the quality was good.

JACK: I've always had the quality because it was the kind of quality I wanted. I felt that each man that does any kind of a task believes that he can do it. I mean, when you consider the kind of environment I came from, you say, "A fella that came from the Lower East Side - where did he get the idea that he could draw, and do art, and develop his art to a high degree?" Well, I did.

GLENN: Y'know, there are a lot of artists now who can draw technically good drawings, but there isn't the heart behind it; there isn't that excitement. When you see a Kirby drawing, it jumps off the page! Now you look and say, "Okay, it's balanced, but...?"

JACK: My stories were true. They involved living people, and they involved myself. They involved whatever I knew. I never lied to my readers.

GLENN: It came out in your artwork. Whatever was going on inside you and where you came from, it came right out in your artwork - what happened in your life. That's what I'm saying: Maybe some of these artists, because of the way the world is now - I don't know if it's coming out in their art. Maybe they haven't lived the stuff that you lived.

JACK: I must admit that at the time I started, it was certainly a period of turbulence and doubt and fear, and everything was happening to give people cause to think. Not only that, it gave people cause to fight, and so I found myself in the midst of that kind of a period. And what came out of me, you'll find in Captain America. Captain America would fight six guys at a time.

GLENN: Y'know, you always had a knack for that misunderstood kind of anti-hero. Not so much Captain America but - well, even Captain America. In the beginning, he was this skinny kid, y'know? And when you re-did the Sub-Mariner, he goes back home and his race was gone after he was a bum in the bowery, or whatever.

JACK: Every story has to have a little pathos.

GLENN: Something somebody can associate with, who's feeling maybe not in time with the world.

JACK: Actually, I was telling myself and the reader that we can do it! If we want to write a good story, then we could write a good story. If we want to run a mile, we can run a mile. If we want to win a hockey game, we can win a hockey game. And I did; I played hockey in the gutter in New York. I played with wooden sticks, with people who wanted to win, too. And it's human to want to win; to beat the other guy and say, "I won this game and I feel great about it." Why? Because I know I would. And that's the way I felt. Now, when I began to draw, certainly I wasn't Rembrandt. I drew on the tenement floor and I remember the janitor coming up and bawling me out, and he'd erase my drawing on the tenement floor. And I would draw another one, y'know? (laughter) And, of course, I found out that I liked it and I pursued it.

GLENN: A lot of people don't know that you actually scripted a lot of these stories - most of them. Even the Marvel stuff.

JACK: I did.

GLENN: You always gave the villains - Dr. Doom, or Magneto, or Sub-Mariner, or whoever - they were the ultimate villains and they were evil, but they had their other side; the internal turmoil. You would always see them fighting with themselves; they actually had their own personality. They weren't just evil guys and that's why you'd love 'em. They actually had personality, too. You could identify with them.

JACK: I saw my villains not as villains. I knew
villains had to come from somewhere and they came from people. My villains were people that developed problems. What was wrong with Dr. Doom? He was a very highly-regarded scientist and what happened was that there was an explosion in his laboratory and it ruined his face. It scarred his face for life and, being the perfectionist that he was, he had to hide that face. And how did he hide that face? In a mask of iron and steel. Doctor Doom became a man with a deep, deep problem, and a man with a deep problem is going to give all the people trouble. (laughter) These are the roots from which villains spring if you dig deep beneath the stereotypes, and I did, y'know?

There were people on my block who became gangsters; there were people on my block who became cops. My best friend said, "I'll become an artist like you. I'll take you to my mother and you can tell her that you're making money at drawing," and of course he told his mother. He said, "Jackie is an artist and they're paying him for his drawings, and if I do the same, they'll pay me, too." And his mother says, "No, no!" I remember that. People really believed in stereotypes and she says, "I know all about artists and I want you to be someone-something different." She says, "I want you to go out and get a decent job." (laughter) When I came back from Basic Training, my friend was a New York policeman and he retired as a police inspector. Can you find a job more decent than that? Mothers being the sacred objects that they were, a man would obey his mother.

GLENN: Back then also, if your dad was a cop, they wanted you to be a cop. And if your dad was a plumber, they wanted you to be a plumber.

JACK: Of course; that kind of thing was prevalent.

GLENN: Was there any pressure on you to not be an artist?

JACK: No, no. My dad was a factory worker, and my dad loved me and my mother loved me. They always supported me and whatever I wanted to do, they knew that I would do the decent thing.

GLENN: Even in the lean times, did they say, "Go do your art"?

JACK: Yes, yes. They had a deep faith in me. I loved them for it. I made up my mind to make my parents proud of me and I tried my best. Of course, I'd have tried my best in other fields; it could have been in any field. My object was to make my parents proud, and I loved them deeply.

[At this point, there is a break in the recording, and it resumes with a discussion of the Achille Lauro incident. In October 1985, members of the Palestine Liberation Front, a member-organization of the PLO, hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro while it was at anchor in Port Said, Egypt in the Mediterranean Sea, and held its passengers hostage. Many American tourists were on-board, including elderly, wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, who was a boyhood friend of Kirby's. The terrorists shot Klinghoffer in cold blood and threw his body overboard. To rub further salt into the wound, PLO officials repeatedly mocked the victims, declaring at the United Nations that Mrs. Klinghoffer had probably murdered her husband "for the insurance money." Abu Abbas, head of the PLF and mastermind of the hijacking, when asked about the killing of Klinghoffer, replied, "Maybe he was trying to swim for it."]

GLENN: The guy who jumped on the terrorists was in a wheelchair?

JACK: He was in a wheelchair, yeah. When I knew him, his folks owned the mini-store on my block. He was the only one that went after the terrorists.

ROZ KIRBY: He went after them verbally. He talked back to them.

MIKE: They shot him in the head.

JACK: Nobody said a word to the terrorists; they did as they willed. Klinghoffer was the only one who talked back to them. He died. They threw him overboard and he died. A guy from my block would do it. He wouldn't stand for it because there were women on board and he felt that...

GLENN: Where was that? In Brooklyn? Bronx?

JACK: No, Lower East Side. And that's why I say they turned on him. [People on my block] were people that were just becoming Americans. I felt I was an American because I was born here. All the guys felt that. And, of course, Captain America came out of that kind of a feeling.

GLENN: Did you think Captain America would last this long?

JACK: Yes. I think anything good will last.

GLENN: But still remain that popular?

JACK: That's like asking, "Do you think Robin Hood will last?" Yeah. Robin Hood will last for 500 years.

GLENN: This brings up another point; you created legends. They're actually American myths. It's like when you read about Hercules or Robin Hood or King Arthur. Kids also read about Captain America and the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. It's the same thing; it's like a mythology, and people actually study the history of these heroes, like what happened in issue #4 when it's already 300 issues out, and things like this. They want to know the whole history.

JACK: Of course, the way I interpret it, our work will last - maybe not forever, but it will last a long, long time. Remember, Robin Hood was created in medieval times. King Richard was still king, right?

GLENN: That's going to be wild. A hundred years from now when someone picks up something and says, "What's this?" and it's a Captain America comic book by Jack Kirby, it'll be like they're reading Robin Hood from ages ago. Do you think these old comic books will be like first editions or something?

JACK: Yes, they'll be looked upon as medieval texts, and your children will talk about me. They'll say, "My great grandfather was impressive in my times. My great grandfather could tell us legends that would enchant us." And they'll take out tape recordings and say, "Listen."

GLENN: Imagine little kids doing book reports on Captain America (laughter): "For my book report, I did Captain America by Jack Kirby. Captain America was a man..."; it would be great.

JACK: They become classics in their own right.

GLENN: They're definitely part of the American culture.

JACK: They've become universal. The comic book was born in America, but now I get calls from Iceland; I get calls from New Delhi, and around the world. That's why comics are important, because they're legitimate storytelling. It's model storytelling because our technology accommodates that kind of thing.

GLENN: You know what's great about all this - you haven't been doing comics for a while now that you've retired, but everybody wants to know about Jack Kirby.

JACK: If I told you all of it, you'd never believe it. (laughter) You'd never believe it.

Mike: I'd believe it. (laughter) But I've heard your stories.

GLENN: How do you feel about this renewed interest in Jack Kirby? They've revised New Gods and put it out again and given you credit.

JACK: Well, I get the comics and I can see it. I can see people... I see a preponderance of stories. I feel that everybody in sight wants to tell a story and, of course, comics are the best kind of a conduit. Some of the fellas will write for the publishers or draw for the publishers. There's a flood of independents. And where did the Ninja Turtles come from? From independents. Can you tell me anything more successful than the Ninja Turtles?

GLENN: Right now? No. They've gone, literally, from their basement or garage to an American success story.

JACK: It could only happen in America because it's a democracy. Now maybe it can happen in Russia. (laughter) Who knows what's going to happen?

GLENN: It must gratify you that all these little kids are seeing this Marvel and DC stuff, and it's like, "Wow! This is incredible stuff!"

JACK: Y'know, I get feedback and it's gratifying, really.

GLENN: Do you like doing public appearances, and meeting your fans?

JACK: Once in a while.

GLENN: Are the fans generally nice and pleasant?

JACK: Oh, they certainly are. I haven't met any that weren't. They've always treated me well, y'know. I've always loved the fans. I think there's something about comics and good storytelling that's a marriage, and they realize that. That's the wonderful thing about comics: It puts the idea of published storytelling in the hands of the ordinary guy. That's American.

GLENN: Didn't you and Joe Simon start Mainline in the '50s? That was a pretty much an independent. You went against the big boys. Were you guys the first to do that or were there other companies?

JACK: Oh, yes, we were pretty much the first, and we put some good stuff out. We did the first satires, and I had a lot of fun with those. We began to find different avenues for comics to experiment with. They did well. Everybody that read them, liked them.

GLENN: Did you create Sgt. Fury?

JACK: Yes. He was my idea of a soldier. Having been a soldier myself - just a PFC, really - the experiences were very, very real, and whatever was real to me was so reflected in Sgt. Fury. That's the way things were in the War. It's that kind of a thing that galvanized me because - well, it happened, and I was right in the middle of it.

GLENN: What about Sharon Carter from Captain America - that was a great love story; all these ups and downs, just like a real relationship.

JACK: Y'know, for comics to be effective they have to mirror life in some way. You've got to make them high drama. You gotta make them - not fictional, but you've got to dramatize, like what you see in Captain America.

GLENN: What's really great about Captain America is that the career always got in the way, and the girl would always say, "Choose between me and your career," and he'd go, "My country comes first."

JACK: Yes, because Captain America was always sort of a symbol. He was united to a principle which he couldn't forgo. He couldn't deviate from that principle, and that's very human. Now we can change our manners and we can grow in all kinds of different ways, but underneath it we're always going to be us; and no matter what we learn, it's going to be interpreted by us - and not only that, but the effects of our own values. You may become an immensely successful man, a great business man, but basically you're going to be the kid who grew up on a certain block and had done all that, and used all that in the way this kid would use it. You would treat people as that kid would treat them; you'd either like them or dislike them as this kid inside you would sense it, and he would interpret it - this kid would always interpret it in you.

GLENN: How did you get the ideas for some of these women? I noticed that a lot of them looked like Roz.

JACK: I can tell you that the minute I saw Roz, I was... [pause]

GLENN: Captivated?

JACK: I was. And I make no bones about it.

GLENN: And you came out with all these new women characters that look like Roz, except for the women with the black hair - (pointing at book) who was that character? Was that anyone specific?

JACK: No, not really; not anyone. I respect women in general. I would never do anything to offend them. I feel it's the prerogative of every American to protect them.

GLENN: You always had strong women in your books. Sue Storm was always strong. She resolved a lot of the FF's conflicts. Big Barda was a muscle woman; way before women got involved in body building, you had Big Barda.

JACK: Oh yes. I thought women should have their independence, which they could utilize.

GLENN: That was way before its time. You said this girl is a warrior woman; she should have muscles and she should be a fighter. Obviously, anyone with common sense would realize that.

JACK: And warrior women are not new. Throughout history we've read about them.

GLENN: Again, you were the first to do it.

JACK: Well, it was because I had the opportunity. I respect women very, very highly.

GLENN: Was it great going from Marvel to DC and getting that much freedom?

JACK: I didn't get it; I took it.

GLENN: Was it great having that freedom?

JACK: Yes. I've always been that kind of person. I've always done what I felt had to be done. And the reason they took it was the fact that the magazines sold. At that time, even for 10 cents I usually got several hundred thousand book sales. And take Joe Simon - we came from totally different backgrounds, yet together we made an excellent team. I admired Joe, and he liked the kind of stuff I did. Together we created stuff that sold magazines.

GLENN: Do you have a favorite? Did you like working by yourself as a writer and artist or did you like working with Stan or Joe?

JACK: I just get back to circumstance. You'll never find two more diverse guys than Joe and myself, except in temperament, except in ambition, and except in trying to achieve excellence in whatever we do. I constantly admired Joe for that.

GLENN: Did Stan give you pretty much a free reign, though?

JACK: Everybody did. If I hadn't sold magazines, I wouldn't have been that type of person. But I know that I did, Joe knew that we did, and we took that prerogative.

GLENN: Definitely, when people see a Kirby book, they know it's by Kirby, and that may be why the artwork has appreciated so much now.

JACK: Yes. There are problems in [the stories], and there are people who are true to their own environment - and they're all real, but very, very interesting. If you analyze them, you'll find that I'm not really fictionalizing. There's a realistic ending, there are realistic circumstances, there are realistic beginnings and consequences - consequences for the heroes. Heroes make mistakes. Super-heroes can iron them out.

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