Jack Kirby: The Epic Life… by Tom Scioli

Jacob Kurtzberg was born on August 28, 1917

Jack KirbyAs someone who has become bit of a Jack Kirby affectionado, I needed to write a review of a new book about him.

Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics is a biography, or perhaps a 200-page graphic novel, by the guy who co-created Captain America, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and many more superhero favorites.

It was scripted from various Kirby interviews. Tom Sciofi, an Eisner-nominated comics creator, with whom I wasn’t familiar, wrote and drew the story. It is VERY thoroughly researched, including a bibliography. Scioli’s one affection is to draw Jack in a more cartoony style, and shorter than almost everyone else.

Jacob Kurtzberg was born on August 28, 1917, in the Lower East Side of New York City. His tough upbringing during the Great Depression and his love of science fiction would inform much of his work. He tried a number of pseudonyms, some simultaneously, before settling on Jack Kirby.

His service in the European Theater in World War II was some of the more harrowing segments in the narrative, something I had only been vaguely aware of.

Neither cash or credit

Jack was not only very talented but prolific. But he wasn’t, by most accounts, very good on the business side of things. Generally, the comic book industry and the companies Kirby helped to thrive did not treat him well.

One four-star review in Amazon complained that the Sciofi narrative was not always “fair” to the other side. To that I say, I don’t care. Put a different way, “Just as every great superhero needs a villain to overcome, Kirby’s story also includes his struggles to receive the recognition and compensation that he believed his work deserved.”

I was quite fond of the handful of segments in the book when Jack’s wife, Roz, drove the narrative.

Here is an eleven-page excerpt. Also, an interview announcing Tom Scioli’s then-forthcoming graphic novel.

If you don’t know Kirby’s story, you really ought to pick up this book. If you’re a Jack expert, I think you’ll likely enjoy the telling of the tale.

Review: Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love

looking for Ebony

Dingbat LoveHaving read an advanced copy (PDF) of Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love, I now understand the title. It’s a bit of a portmanteau. I fear, though, tha the casual reader will misunderstand it as just romance comics featuring not very bright people.

As Steve Sherman, one of Kirby’s assistants in the 1970s notes in one of the text pieces, “Dingbat” is what Archie Bunker called his wife Edith on the TV show All in the Family. But Jack had named the “kid gang” he drew and wrote the Dingbats of Danger Street. They had a few issues in the mid-1970s, but I somehow missed them.

And I did read Kirby in this period: New Gods, Kamandi, and OMAC among them, even though I was primarily a Marvel fan then. Dingbats is an entertaining read, especially when inked by Mike Royer and D. Bruce Berry, and colored especially for the book.

All you need is…

The “Love” angle in the title is represented by True-Life Divorce, an abandoned newsstand magazine. Also stories from Soul Love, a romance book inked by Vince Colletta and Tony DeZuniga finally sees the light of day. The dialogue was occasionally clunky, but the stories were surprisingly good. The Kirby women, for the most part, were realistically zaftig.

The discussion of WHY these items were not published at the time is nearly as entertaining as the strips. Editor John Morrow examines the era, while Jerry Boyd analyzes Soul Love. Kirby assistant Mark Evanier explains going to several stores looking for Ebony magazines. Kirby wanted them as references for faces of black people, but they were hard to find in Thousand Oaks, CA.

Still, as Morrow noted, “What was unprecedented was Kirby’s inclusion of black heroes in his Marvel Comics series in the 1960s. In 1963, Gabe Jones debuted as a black member of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos in Sgt. Fury #1. But the one that really broke down barriers was the Black Panther, first appearing in Fantastic Four #52 (1966).”

It’s odd. After Kirby’s tumultuous departure from Marvel c 1970, one might think that DC would be inclined to let the King do what he would like. That would be an erroneous assumption. As Evanier noted: “We’re talking here about Jack Kirby, the man whose rejects were more interesting than what most creators got accepted.”

You may order the book Dingbat Love, a 176-page FULL-COLOR HARDCOVER, from your local comic book store – I hope – or through Two Morrows. They’re the same folks who put out Kirby & Lee: Stuf’ Said!

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I’m mentioned in Kirby & Lee: Stuf’ Said!

Jack Kirby expressed his dismay to the interviewer over Marvel’s uncompensated reuse of his Fantastic Four animation storyboards to make a ‘new’ Lee/Kirby story in Fantastic Four #236.”

Stuf' SaidMy friend Rocco, who is as responsible for me blogging – he told me about Fred Hembeck’s blog – emailed me recently. “I am reading the new book titles Stuf’ Said! about Jack and Stan. They quote you from FF Chronicle. The book is great.”

Huh, what? There is something called Jack Kirby Collector. Number 75 is a double-sized publication called Kirby & Lee: Stuf’ Said! “The complex genesis of the Marvel Universe, in its creators’ own words.”

Here’s an early paragraph: “As the 1960s wore on, Jack was doing more of the work via the ‘Marvel method,’ where the ‘artist’ was responsible for much/most/all of the plotting and pacing of the stories, while the ‘writer’ concentrated on the words in the caption boxes and balloons, after the drawn pages were completed and the story totally fleshed out.

“But Kirby was seeing [the late Stan] Lee get most of the credit – and since Lee was the editor, he had final say in masking changes to Kirby’s stories, even tales he had minimal or no involvement with from the outset. It lead to irreconcilable differences between them…”

In 1981, FantaCo put out a magazine called the X-Men Chronicles; I edited the 32-page magazine, even though I had never undertaken such a project. It was successful, selling out of 50,000 copies.

Apparently, Marvel Comics was suitably impressed and allowed FantaCo to use its logo, for free, on the next two titles, about the Fantastic Four, edited by me, and Daredevil, edited by Mitch Cohn.

I had called Jack Kirby in California and THOUGHT he understood that I wanted to do an interview with him about his Fantastic Four participation. We pitched the titles to the distributors and highlighted the Kirby coup. At the time, there were several companies to solicit, including Seagate (Brooklyn) and Capital City (Madison, WI), not just Diamond.
Fantastic Four ChroniclesHowever, when I sent the questions, he declined to respond to a number of them, so I came up with alternate queries. He DID mention the FF. From Stuf’ Said: (p. 130): “He also expressed his dismay to the interviewer over Marvel’s uncompensated reuse of his Fantastic Four animation storyboards to make a ‘new’ Lee/Kirby story in Fantastic Four #236.”

From my interview: “The trouble is that ‘Marvel wants it all.’ It worked that way in the past. But we would like to see a more equitable future where deals can be worked out to the benefit of all who work for sales.”

I had a Kirby interview but clearly not what I expected. FantaCo had two options: use the interview, or dump it. The latter would certainly mean we would have to resolicit FF Chronicles. AND it would also have an effect on the Daredevil collection, since they were being printed two up.

We obviously took the former path, printing 80,000 of FF and 90,000 of DD. A few days after they were back from the printer, the phone rang, and Mitch Cohn answered it. It was a profanity-laden tirade from Marvel editor Jim Shooter saying, essentially or possibly literally, “WTF were you thinking?”

He threatened to have Marvel sue FantaCo – which didn’t happen – and they revoked our use of Marvel logo, which was fine by us. So I spent $17 just to read “‘Questions and Answers with Jack Kirby, Version Two,’ interview by Roger Green.”

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