Episode 1663 Talkback - Spotlight on Jack 'King' Kirby Part One

Kirby Is Here!!! We're 'Krackling' with excitement to present Part One of our two-part tribute to the King of Comics, in celebration of his centennial year. Kirby Konnoisseur Chris Eberle walks us through Jack's early life, his marriage, his service in World War II, his storied creative partnerships with Joe Simon and Stan Lee, and the triumphs and trials of his career in comics from the early Golden Age to his exit from Marvel in 1970.


Sweet, sweet video returns, and you can also listen here!

Comments

  • luke52luke52 Posts: 1,326
    Can't wait to get into this one!
  • Mark_EngblomMark_Engblom Posts: 288
    edited August 5
    An absolutely superb Spotlight episode! Hats off to Chris Eberle for this thoroughly researched and passionately delivered overview of Kirby's early life through the Silver Age. I also appreciated how fair Chris was when it came to the Lee-Kirby collaborations, none of which would've been the same without either of them present. Thank you for not engaging in the pointless and polarizing invective so much of the "comic book commentariat" routinely engage in.

    Unfortunately, I'm not as big a fan of Kirby's later career, which makes me a bit more ambivalent about listening to Part 2. Oh, I'll listen...I have faith that Chris will be as fair minded as he was for part 1....but knowing what I already know about the twilight of Kirby's career, with all of its tales of persecution, accusations, finger pointing, and "someone done Kirby wrong" songs...it's going to be bittersweet. But that's history, folks....learning the good AND the bad of a person's life or period of time. However, as bad as things got for Kirby those last few decades, I choose....and I suspect Chris will choose....to focus instead upon the transcendent power of the man's creative work. He may have failed as a savvy entrepreneur and "brand manager" (in today's parlance), but he sure made up for it as a consummate craftsman and creative dynamo.

    God bless you, Jack!
  • CalibanCaliban Posts: 1,346
    Comic geek speak gold. 3 hours of King Kirby krackle!
    Chapeau, gentlemen, chapeau.
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 5,216
    edited August 5
    Nice summary, @wildpigcomics. It’s a lot to condense, and you (and the rest) did a pretty good job of giving context to the man and his career. And thank you very much for taking the history seriously by citing your sources. So many others—not just podcasters, but bloggers, online writers, and even book authors from other companies I won't name—fail to do that. And I don't need to tell you, Chris, that that is how hearsay becomes treated as fact, as it did with the infamous golf game you mentioned on the show.

    A few notes:

    Yes, Kirby hated being an in-betweener, but the impetus for him leaving Fleischer Studios was the unrest among the staff at the studio, and Kirby didn't want to get mixed up in a strike. He didn't think the job he had there was worth that, so he got out. Fleischer ended up moving their operations to Florida not long after, and I can’t imagine that Kirby would have made that move, so he would have left sooner or later either way.

    Re: the creation of Spider-Man, the Kirby Collector has discussed the issue multiple times (sorry, I can’t remember which issues exactly), most recently in issue #66. There are no firm conclusions, obviously. Personally, I think Kirby was involved in some way in the process of the development of the character, but had little to no input of notable significance, outside of possibly the name, in the character as we know it. And the name wasn’t exactly a leap of ingenuity either, given there was a Spider Queen in 1941, a Spider Widow in 1942, a Spider Woman in 1943, Dr. Bio and his Spider-Men in 1945, etc., etc. As far as I'm concerned Spider-Man is a Ditko and Lee creation. And, I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm pretty much with you on the two-thirds Kirby, one-third Lee assessment in most cases.

    Re: Stan Lee, could he have done more to support Kirby? Probably, but not necessarily. I mean, Neal Adams did more to help the financial status and rights of comic book artists than Stan ever did, and he was only a freelance artist himself, not the face of a company. But Neal had the advantage of timing with Superman: The Movie and the huge wave of publicity that brought on his side, and Lee (before Kirby’s death) did not. But did Lee really even try? Nope. No way he wanted to rock that boat—that gravy boat, that is. Lee got his golden parachute, and Kirby got screwed. Part of that is on Kirby, but the vast majority of it is on Goodman, and Cadence, and Jack Schiff, and Harry Donenfeld, and Kinney National, and on, and on, and on... even Joe Simon kind of screwed him in the end, whether intentionally or not. As you guys said, most (but certainly not all) of the first comic book publishers and packagers (not to mention the distributors) were crooks and swindlers.

    And, yes, as Mark said above, Kirby towards the end of his life released all the pent up anger in a way that often misrepresented the facts. But I can’t really blame the guy, because he did get screwed badly throughout his life, just not always in the way he described it. I sometimes wonder what the comics industry would be like today (assuming it would still be around) if Kirby had unleashed some of that anger at Goodman just a few years earlier, say, while drawing that first Silver Surfer story.
  • Mark_EngblomMark_Engblom Posts: 288

    And yes, as Mark said above, Kirby towards the end of his life released all the pent up anger in a way that often misrepresented the facts. But I can’t really blame the guy, because he did get screwed badly throughout his life, just not always in the way he described it.

    That's why I always try to focus on Kirby's work and not the subjective and ultimately unknowable workplace politics behind it all. I say that as no slight against Chris's superb biography, because I believe Chris is taking great pains to be as fair as possible. Rather, in my own life as both a comic book fan and professional artist, I've learned that good creative work will always transcend dreary workplace conflict and all-too-predictable human enmity. Can't ignore it, of course, but I can decide on a personal level to view Kirby as the unique and unequaled creative giant he was, rather than the perpetually hapless, screwed-over, put-upon, constantly wronged and slighted figure his most vehement acolytes portray him as.

  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 5,216

    Can't ignore it, of course, but I can decide on a personal level to view Kirby as the unique and unequaled creative giant he was, rather than the perpetually hapless, screwed-over, put-upon, constantly wronged and slighted figure his most vehement acolytes portray him as.

    Can’t ignore it, and shouldn’t ignore it. Many of his fans go way overboard on that account, I agree, I think in large part because they empathize with him. Most of us have been screwed over in some way during our lives—some much more than others. I think some of those devotees project a bit of themselves into Kirby’s circumstances. Again, I can’t really blame them if they do.

    While I do think it's very important to remember him primarily for his amazing creative output and accomplishments, we should also always remember his setbacks and mistreatments. I don't believe the latter undermines the former, and it shouldn’t. In fact, I think those mistreatments fueled him in a lot of ways—along with his childhood in the tenements and his experiences in the war (there’s no way of knowing for sure, but I believe he probably suffered from some level of PTSD).
  • Mark_EngblomMark_Engblom Posts: 288

    /blockquote>
    While I do think it's very important to remember him primarily for his amazing creative output and accomplishments, we should also always remember his setbacks and mistreatments. I don't believe the latter undermines the former, and it shouldn’t.

    It's definitely a balance that needs to be struck, and I have confidence that Chris will strike it. In many ways, Kirby was (like all of us) a paradox. It's hard to reconcile the man who gave us, say, a mighty, expansive concept like the Celestials as the same guy who bitterly kept a scrapbook of Stan Lee newspaper clippings. It's ultimately a tragedy that a man who grew up in the mean streets of New York City wasn't very street wise when it came to dealing with the bullies and charlitans of the comic book biz. Sad that a guy who was in many ways "the tough kid" from one of his countless kid gangs couldn't manage his own career with that same level of moxie and brash confidence. But despite those failings (and they absolutely were failings), he gave form and function to countless flights of fancy...and THAT'S the Jack Kirby I'll be honoring on August 28.

  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 5,216
    edited August 5

    Sad that a guy who was in many ways "the tough kid" from one of his countless kid gangs couldn't manage his own career with that same level of moxie and brash confidence.

    The funny thing is, if he had done so, the most logical path would have been to leave comics in the ’50s and try his luck in Hollywood, and if he had done that, who knows where the comics industry would be now.
  • Mark_EngblomMark_Engblom Posts: 288


    ...if he had done that, who knows where the comics industry would be now.

    Your mention of today's comic book industry has me thinking about how both the positive AND negative aspects of Kirby's career continue to influence it. Of course, the obvious positive influences are his many creations that still live and breathe on the comics page all these years later, many of whom have made the leap into movies and other media...which, in turn, have provided a form of financial "life support" for an otherwise moribund industry.

    However, as I suggested, Kirby's influence also lives on in another, less obvious way: the lessons learned from his professional misfortunes have lead to real and lasting reforms for creatives. Over the last several decades, the larger publishers have instituted better working conditions and more equitable financial arrangements...not in a perfect or all-encompassing way...but better nonetheless. Beyond that, new publishing models have emerged, most significantly Image Comics. Say what you will about its early years or its founders, but a quarter century later, its charter philosophy of complete creator control is thriving and yielding incredible new possibilities in comic book storytelling. In fact, it's become successful to the point of doing real damage to the big legacy publishers, perhaps Kirby's ultimate "revenge". Knowing the history with Kirby and so many others, creators no longer share their best new characters and concepts with Marvel or DC, opting instead to save them for their own creator-owned projects. This has forced the Big Two to keep using the same (or slightly tweaked) characters over and over and over again (much like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic), becoming centers of endless repetition and low innovation. As an aside, I wonder what Kirby thought about Image as it emerged in the early 90's? That's something I'd love to learn more about in Part 2. I can imagine Kirby being pleased to see creatives taking charge of their careers and creations in a way he never could, learning from his generation's mistakes and making a better future for intensely motivated writers and artists. In this way, Kirby's many professional slights and frustrations at least helped to serve some greater good for the generations after him.


  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 5,216
    edited August 6
    Not to spoil things, but the Image founders went out of their way to make sure Kirby got the biggest payday in comics he ever received (while living). They built a whole group of titles based on characters he had come up with while he was working in animation, and even though it didn't last very long, Kirby made a good chunk of money from it. So yeah, Kirby loved the Image guys.
  • Mark_EngblomMark_Engblom Posts: 288

    Not to spoil things, but the Image founders went out of their way to make sure Kirby got the biggest payday in comics he ever received (while living). They built a whole group of titles based on characters he had come up with while he was working in animation, and even though it didn't last very long, Kirby made a good chunk of money from it. So yeah, Kirby loved the Image guys.

    Well, and certainly beyond that money he got from the Image guys, I'm sure he appreciated the general principal of creators striking out on their own free from the strictures and double-dealing of the legacy publishers. Of course, some of those same Image creators (who shall go unnamed here) have been guilty of the same behavior in their own shops, but this isn't the place to go into all that. At the end of the day, Kirby's travails helped pave the way for a more dignified and equitable landscape for today's more highly motivated and talented creators to plot their own course.
  • penn2kpenn2k Posts: 29
    Only 2/3 way through - but loving this magnum opus of an episode - well done once again, Gents!
  • i_am_scifii_am_scifi Posts: 523
    Job well done, gentlemen. @wildpigcomics you outdid yourself with this one. I learned so much, and then some. Looking forward to part 2!
  • matchkitJOHNmatchkitJOHN Posts: 983
    Here's a What If? What if that day when Goodman was shutting things down that Jack and Stan went out for a drink and decided to start their own comic company. Or set-up a studio and then contract to Timely/Marvel with the agreement they keep the rights to any characters they create. Marvel would have sole comics rights but Lee/Kirby own their characters and licensing rights. If only.
  • TheOriginalGManTheOriginalGMan Posts: 1,639
    Pants: "I'm digging it!"

    Me: Same.
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 5,216

    Here's a What If? What if that day when Goodman was shutting things down that Jack and Stan went out for a drink and decided to start their own comic company. Or set-up a studio and then contract to Timely/Marvel with the agreement they keep the rights to any characters they create. Marvel would have sole comics rights but Lee/Kirby own their characters and licensing rights. If only.

    I can't imagine them starting their own publishing house at that time. In 1958, companies were going under (or simply shutting down their comic book divisions) left and right, thanks to the fallout of the Kefauver hearings. Fawcett left comics, Quality was gone, St. John was gone, EC was focused on Mad. There were only six big comic publishers left, along with a few small houses struggling to hang on. Those publishers who were left probably wouldn't have been interested in the type of arrangement you describe, and certainly not DC or Goodman. Prize might have done it, as they had with Kirby and Simon a few years earlier, but they were on their last legs by that point.

    It's interesting to think about, but probably wouldn't have been possible.
  • matchkitJOHNmatchkitJOHN Posts: 983

    Here's a What If? What if that day when Goodman was shutting things down that Jack and Stan went out for a drink and decided to start their own comic company. Or set-up a studio and then contract to Timely/Marvel with the agreement they keep the rights to any characters they create. Marvel would have sole comics rights but Lee/Kirby own their characters and licensing rights. If only.

    I can't imagine them starting their own publishing house at that time. In 1958, companies were going under (or simply shutting down their comic book divisions) left and right, thanks to the fallout of the Kefauver hearings. Fawcett left comics, Quality was gone, St. John was gone, EC was focused on Mad. There were only six big comic publishers left, along with a few small houses struggling to hang on. Those publishers who were left probably wouldn't have been interested in the type of arrangement you describe, and certainly not DC or Goodman. Prize might have done it, as they had with Kirby and Simon a few years earlier, but they were on their last legs by that point.

    It's interesting to think about, but probably wouldn't have been possible.
    So the climate wasn't right for a Silver Age Image? And then they would have to figure out distributors? Thanks for the insights as always!
  • TheOriginalGManTheOriginalGMan Posts: 1,639
    I'm an hour and 1/2 into this thing and I'm giddy at the thought that I'm only halfway done! Of *PART ONE*! To paraphrase Winston Churchill, if @wildpigcomics participation with CGS should last for a 1000 years, let it be said that this was his finest hour. Bravo, sir. Bravo.

    Side note: I love how when Chris comes to some obscure comic or comic character, he seamlessly swings it over to @Adam_Murdough for further explanation. It's like Murd is Chris' very own, personal Wikipedia (or, "Murdipedia," which I may start referring to him as, from now on)
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 5,216

    So the climate wasn't right for a Silver Age Image? And then they would have to figure out distributors? Thanks for the insights as always!

    No problem. Yeah, the climate was at a definite low point, and even if Kirby and Lee had been so inclined to pursue self-publishing, I doubt they could have gotten the necessary financial backing. And then, as you say, distribution would have been a problem as well. A lot of those publishers who were folding in ’57 and ’58 did so, as I think Chris mentioned in the show, in large part because American News Company (which distributed Atlas/Marvel) went under in ’57. Having just been blacklisted by Jack Schiff and DC, I doubt Kirby and Lee would have been able to distribute through Independent News, which was owned by DC, as Goodman had done. DC had always been one of the big boys, thanks to Superman, but it was from this point that they were able to become the dominant publisher of the next decade or so.
  • aquatroyaquatroy Posts: 377
    Holy Moley! That's a lot of info to process. Thanks guys! Great work.

    Btw, is it just me or did anyone else have Kubby going through their head?
  • nweathingtonnweathington Posts: 5,216
    On a second listen, I want to point out that you shouldn't believe everything you read in Joe Simon’s The Comic Book Makers book.
  • ChrisMurrinChrisMurrin Posts: 131
    aquatroy said:

    Btw, is it just me or did anyone else have Kubby going through their head?

    I forgot about that. Now that's all I'm going to hear.

  • luke52luke52 Posts: 1,326
    @wildpigcomics thank you especially for that episode. Incredible stuff. That is staying in the 'do not delete' section of my podcasts.

    Can't believe Hollywood haven't made his life into a movie. It's certainly worthwhile.
  • matchkitJOHNmatchkitJOHN Posts: 983
    edited August 9
    A non-Kirby highlight was Murd stating the next Shazam episode will be in September!
  • Can't wait for part 2
  • alienalalienal Posts: 465
    Very good episode! Very well researched! Very in-depth! I not only listened to it once while I was on the bus, but I watched it again in the office just to see the images. I listened to the Uncle Sal episode just after this one, so now I'm looking forward to part 2 because Sal talked a lot about the 4th World stuff.
  • bralinatorbralinator Posts: 5,916
    Part two has dropped today. Can't wait to find the time to listen. Thanks guys!
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