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An interview with Jack Kirby from 197115161

You can't get good wood on the ball every time. HotKeyComics private msg quote post Address this user
I saw this in an auction a little while ago and it had a Kirby interview so I bid on it and won. I'm not sure if this interview was well known already but it was new to me so I thought I would share it here as a good spot to archive it instead of a doc. I learned quite a bit in it, but I wasn't really heavy on my Kirby knowledge to begin with to be fair. Enjoy! All grammar and spelling errors are in the interview.(hopefully)
The following interview with Jack Kirby was originally broadcast over WNUR-FM on the Tim Skelly Show, May 14, 1971. WNUR is the non-commercial educational radio station of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Though a bit dated in parts, we present it here for the glimpse it offer of Jack Kirby the man and artist in the early days of Mr. Miracle, New Gods, and The Forever People.
TNJ: You were involved with the kid gang genre of comics in the forties, and you've done a kid gang book for National. You seem to like this whimsical type of genre in comics. Can you tell us the appeal the kid gangs hold for you?

KIRBY: Well, the kid gang has always been around, and of course I've had that experience in my own childhood. I'm quite familiar with them, and I draw what humor I can from them. I feel that kids have always bunched together and had a good time together, and it's a form of group activity and the color of the gang depends on the kind of atmosphere around them.

What was it like growing up as a cartoonist?

It was pretty rough! You know my style had evolved then, and I had very little art school training, and so I had sort of a permanent appeal. It had permanent construction but I believe the quality was there, the effect of quality.

What is the best way to develop as a cartoonist in this business?

Well, it depends on doggedness, I guess, and a kind of relentless quality in the individual. In my case I felt that was what I wanted to do, and although I came from a poor family and we could've used the money, I kinda' struggled along making what I could at it, and improving as much as I could.

Who were your heroes in the comics?

You mean my school! My school was Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff.

Has Alex Raymond had any influence on your work?

Oh yes. He was just a wonderful illustrator. His bodies had a flexibility and he had a beautiful line to his drawing. I guess I wasn't the only admirer of Raymond, and I'm proud to say I copied him unmercifully. Well, I didn't want to take his style exactly, but I took what I liked in his work.

In many comic historys that I've read, you and Joe Simon are often mentioned as collaborators. Not much is ever said about Joe Simon, though. Can you tell us a little about him?

Well, we were partners, and Joe is five years older than I am and maybe three feet taller than I am, and a highly competent man. We were in comics together until the early fifties, I'd say, and then we kind of parted. He wanted to do other things and I stuck with comics and it was fine. There was no reason to continue the partnership and we parted friends.

Was he a writer, an artist, or both?

He was both! Joe was a competent writer, a competent artist and a very good letterer. He was one up on me.

One of my favorite strips was Fighting American. I'm curious to find out what differences you find in Fighting American and your own Captain America.

Well, Fighting American was a satire on Captain America and it was a lot of fun to do. I rather liked the character and I actually modified Captain America's uniform, and the Bucky character was there. It was sort of a lampoon, and I enjoyed it very much.

And I've enjoyed reading them. How do you feel about your days at Marvel, and how did you like working with Stan Lee?

Well, I didn't exactly work with Stan Lee. I worked at home and I wasn't at the offfice much. I'd come in maybe once or twice a month and deliver my drawings. Stan Lee would usually be pretty busy, being the editor there, and I'd deliver my stuff and that would be all there was to it. I'd tell Stan Lee what the next story was going to be and I'd go home and do it.

There was a distinct difference between the stories you had drawn, and probably had a lot to do with the writing, and...

Well, the policy there is the artist isn't allowed to do the dialogue, and therefore has to confine himself to the script. What the artist does is the script and the drawing, and the dialogue is filled in by the writer in the balloons. The artist writes the action in the margin of the illustration board and the writer is therefore able to follow the action in each individual panel. What the artist does is make the framework for the dialogue writer.

Another artist I wanted to ask you about is Steve Ditko. Did you ever have a chance to work with him?

I've never worked with Steve Ditko, he's kind of a shy fellow and I saw him very rarely. He's very likable and very intelligent, and I'm a real admirer of his work. He's a very creative man. Actually Steve created Spider-Man, and he got him to roll and the thing caught on because of what he did.

I've always admired his work. Do you know what he's doing these days?

I've kind of lost touch with Steve, but I understand he's doing a variety of things, and he might be doing some strips at Charlton.

What do you think the advantages are over at National?

The advantages? Well, I have a lot more leeway, I can think things out and do them my way, and know I get credit for the things I do. There were times at Marvel when I couldn't say anything because it would be taken from me and put in another context, and it would be lost - all my connection with it would be severed. For instance, I created the Silver Surfer and Galactus and an army of other characters and my connection with them is lost. Therefore I just kept all the new ideas to myself.

This sounds like a problem. I kind of like to read behind the comic books...

You get to feel like a ghost. You're writing commercials for somebody and... It's a strange feeling but I experienced it, and I didn't like it much.

Things are probably bad enough in the comics field as far as recognition goes.

Well, recognition comes to very few people. It wasn't recognition so much-you just couldn't take the character anywhere. You could devote your time to a character and put a lot of insight into it, and help it evolve, and then lose all connection with it. It's kind of an eerie thing; I can't describe it. You just have to experience that relationship to understand it.

I was wondering if you ever drew, while you were doodling, any crossovers of your own. For instance, have you ever had Mr. Fantastic wrapping himself around Superman (or better yet, Supergirl)?

Well, it would be an interesting thing to do if we could make some sort of a deal between Marvel and National. Then that sort of thing would be no problem. There'd have to be some sort of arrangement made or that sort of thing would be impossible.

I was wondering if you did that for your own amusement.

For my own amusement? No, not really. I just do what I have to do for National or any other place I'll work for and just keep it at that.

I imagine that you're pretty busy now.

Thank goodness for that. As long as I'm active, it's like the quick and the dead. You keep going and you're alive.

By the way, I was reading "The Strangest Sports Stories Ever Told," and I saw a splash panel for "The Roaring Thirties Coming Alive In The Days Of The Mob." What is this?

This is going to be sort of a National special. It's a magazine by itself and it has to do with the crime in the thirties and what I'm doing is just reproducing the atmosphere of that particular period. I'm writing it, drawing it, and just using my own approach to the subject. It's a crime book.

Is it going to be a one-shot?

No, it's more than a one-shot: it'll be a steady magazine. Although they'll be a variety of stories, the second issue deals mainly with one particular gang, and I've done a(unreadable, maybe "a ton of"?) research on it, and have used my own approach on it, and it's coming out very interesting.

Sounds promising. Do you think comic books have fed off pulp magazines?

Some of them have, and I believe that's a failure of the comics because the pulp magazine is a dead medium. It's something that can't be sold today-it has to be redefined. Perhaps it can be revived by some sort of redefining, although I feel nobody's done that yet, and it may be an impossible thing to do. What I'm doing is something entirely different.

I've noticed that. You seem to be influenced very strongly by film. I've noticed your storytelling is very cinematic.

I've done that for a long time. I feel that's the right technique for comics, and I feel comics themselves are sort of a frozen movie. Each artist is producer, director, and casting director. It's got to be written like a movie, staged like a movie, and each character acts as individual characters ... at least mine do, and I feel that gives the comic strip some sort of life and some sort of motion. It's kind of a John Henry concept where you have to compete with a camera, and of course you're bound to lose because your medium is much more limited-it just hasn't the scope of a camera. But, I try to give it a feeling of a movie and I feel the strip is effective in that manner.

Sometimes I feel you improve upon film. You have ways of exploding universes that I don't feel could ever be done as well on the screen.

I think that depends on the individual artist. What you see in a drawing is his conception and his style. That's why I like the idea of a style. I've been told at times to draw like a photograph. In other words, people feel that you should draw realistically like in a photograph, that's wrong. I feel that telling a story, no matter what kind of style you have, (it may be a crude style), is much more effective in comics than just having a nice drawing and looking at it. I don't feel that nice drawings sell a comic. I feel that drawing, and any kind of drawing, combined with good storytelling, sells a comic. Therefore I don't feel I have to be Michelangelo in order to be effective.

I think you're doing very well.

I thank you for that, and I also feel I have my own individual style which is more or less like a fingerprint that's an identification and the people would be able to tell my drawing from 50 others. I don't say that out of any ego-thing or anything-it's the same thing with Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, and many others.

You work contains a raw vitality to it - everything you've done leaps off the page with an unbounded energy, probably more so than the efforts of any other comic artist around.

Somehow I feel that quality has just got to be there and I hate to have a drawing that appears static. I feel that if a drawing doesn't look like it's moving, it loses its effectiveness and the reader just glances over it. It's something that is just static and it just lies there it has no value at all. So I try to put as much movement as I can in my figures, and it would go for anything at all in the story. Even if a figure is sitting still in a chair and tipped over a vase I would feel it's effective. I would tip the perspective of the room to make it less static.

In the first Mr. Miracle book, there was a coloring discrepancy between the cover and the interior colors used on his costume. And then in issue two, it was back to red and green from its original purple and green.

What you're talking about involves an occupational hazard. I happen to be in California and by the time my color sketch had gotten to DC the deadline had passed and they had to color it fast, so they had to do it on their own, and they made it deeper red. They put more blues in the red and it had sort of a purplish hue, but we corrected that in the second issue. Those things happen from time to time.

I've noticed the familiar red, blue and yellow appearing on the Black Racer in New Gods. Is this your choice of colors for the character?

Yes, it's my own coloring.

I just wanted to check on that. The coloring seems to drift over the body. The colors are occasionally off-register, and I wanted to know if you had chosen thoese areas or not.

Yes, I chose those areas. Possibly they might come out bad in the printing or they might come off-register, and you might get a different impression of it. It's very possible that happened, and I can't account for the faults of the press. Though I'm quite sure I'll be bellowing for it.

Have you ever come up with a character whose costume is so complex that you have to simplify it in subsequent issues?

Well, all my costumes have become more or less complex. I felt they had to. I felt the scenery had to become more complex. One of the faults of the comics of the 40s is that the background was so bare and the costumes were so sparse, and I felt a simple costume in the technological era that we have today where no matter what you look at, it has a myriad of buttons or a myriad of stripes, or a myriad of circuits. I felt a simple costume in this kind of period would look out of place, so I made them as complex as possible. I've had to make stats of all my characters so I'd remember all the details of the costume. It's made my work more complex but I've had to live with it.

I think it's worth it to the reader.

I feel it's more of a show. I think comics have to be more of a production, and bigger and better to look at. That's what I'm trying to do in my work.

How do you feel about taking over characters like Jimmy Olsen and Superman, and putting them in your own stories?

I don't like it really because people in charge of these comics have their own image of the character, and I'm up against that conditioning. In other words, I'd tell someone beforehand that I would draw Superman my way, and I'm at their patience many times, and they just bear with me so I could develop Superman my way. Of course he'll look a little different, and the character is bound to have certain characteristics that I alone could put in him, just as much as the man who has always drawn him has put into him. Therefore, my version is going to be different from somebody else's, and the hazards are small, minor conflicts like with the eyes, and they might disturb people who've been used to imagining Superman, or having lived with a certain image of Superman for a number of years. Therefore, it's always a hazard to take another character and do him your way because you're always up against opposition of some kind from people who'll say that's not their image of Superman, or any other character you'll handle. Therefore, I'm a little leery about doing that sort of thing, but I've taken them on at DC and I feel that I'm doing a good job with them.

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I showed my wife and she was so happy for me she started to cry. Batman66 private msg quote post Address this user
@HotKeyComics I applaud you just for typing this whole interview out, it would have taken me a month. Great interview and thanks for sharing
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-Our Odin-
Rest in Peace
Jesse_O private msg quote post Address this user
@HotKeyComics that's pretty cool!! And I second @Batman66 in applauding you for typing that out!!!
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-Our Odin-
Rest in Peace
Jesse_O private msg quote post Address this user
Just so everyone knows, I added the tags "memorabilia", "interviews" and "Kirby" to this thread. You will always be able to find it by searching those tabs. You have to click on "see all tabs" to see "interviews" and "Kirby".
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Collector Stardust_Memories private msg quote post Address this user
Wow! Those were the days. I remember groth's comics journal way back in the day. This must pre-date that.
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Collector doog private msg quote post Address this user
Great insight into the mind of an artist. I thank you for that.
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" . " Davethebrave private msg quote post Address this user
Great piece of history. Kirby’s fame will one day rise even higher than today.
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