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Celebrating Jack Kirby’s 100th Birthday SDCC Style

by  in Comic News Comment
Celebrating Jack Kirby’s 100th Birthday SDCC Style

A number of notables gathered in front of a nearly capacity crowd to celebrate the 100th birthday of comics legend Jack “King” Kirby, who passed away 23 years ago. On hand were IDW COO Greg Goldstein, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman, editor Scott Dunbier, IDW marketing vice president Dirk Wood and hall of fame creator Walt Simonson.

A slide started on the screen with this number: $24,180,050.77. Goldstein estimated that was the amount of money one would need in order to start a discussion on owning all the original Jack Kirby artwork, showcasing the value of his legacy. Goldstein said that many won’t think about parting with these treasures short of passing away.

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Eastman was there briefly, needing to leave mid-panel for another commitment, to tell some stories about his experiences with Kirby, starting with Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth. “I was around 9 or 10 when I discovered Kamandi,” Eastman said. “One of the first movies I saw in a theatre was Planet of the Apes. I felt like I was the last boy on Earth. I loved that Jack Kirby took this concept so much farther, so much deeper.”

Eastman said he still has his “well-loved” copy of Kamandi #1 in a frame behind his desk.

Goldstein introduced Dunbier, who he called “the Sherlock Holmes of original art,” who also called Kamandi a favorite. “My favorite three things between 9 and 11 were Kamandi, Joe Kubert’s Tarzan and an obscure back up in Detective Comics. I’ve done artist editions on all three of them.” After moving to California from New York at age 15, he found it easier to dive into comics than make new friends. During his first visit to the comic book shop Fantasy Castle in Woodland Hills, he brought up a stack of Jack Kirby books. The clerk, perhaps foolishly, said Kirby lived in the area and had a listed phone number.

“I’d been known to call up artists and beg for sketches,” Dunbier continued. “I got home, I called up 411, and sure enough he had a listed phone number. I called the number, Jack Kirby answered the phone and we had a 15 minute conversation about comics. When we were wrapping it up, he asked where I live.” Kirby invited him to come by, get some comics signed and have lunch. Dunbier’s mother drove him over and smoked in the kitchen with Roz Kirby while her son sat with the artist, who kindly signed a stack of comics that was far too large, and gave him a sketch of Captain America waving and saying “Hi, Scott!”

“I got a lot of money for that later!” Dunbier said, “Just kidding, it’s hanging up in my house. None of this is the really remarkable thing about this story. This is not a unique story. I’ve heard this very similar story from so many people, [but] I really feel like it changed my life.”

Simonson told his Kirby story next. “My mom’s family came from Iowa,” he said. “It had a square and a courthouse, my grandmother lived on the second floor above the drugstore.” He found a pre-1961 Marvel monster comic, which had the “evil tale of the Glob,” and that intrigued him about Kirby’s work. He really got hooked in college with Journey Into Mystery #113, featuring the return of the Grey Gargoyle, inked by Chic Stone and starting with a splash page of a Viking ship flying through the sky. He found the first two issues of a four-part story, #120 and #121, ending with the Absorbing Man knocking Thor out after the hero saved a child who wandered into the fight. Freaked out because he couldn’t find the next issue, #123 became available to him, but he was befuddled by what he missed. Simonson mailed Marvel and asking if he could buy the book directly from them and got a manilla envelope with the issue inside and his name, handwritten into a form response. Years later, Stan Lee’s assistant Flo Steinberg admitted, “Oh yeah, that’s my handwriting.” Simonson said. “I was a Marvel maniac from that second on.”

RELATED: DC Comics Announces Jack Kirby Centennial One-Shots

Eastman told his story of meeting Kirby at the 1985 San Diego convention, where Eastman was signing with his partner Peter Laird. “This hush goes through the building. ‘Kirby’s here!'” The two creators stopped what they were doing and rushed up to find Kirby, finishing up a story of how he and Joe Simon created Captain America. A nervous fan was standing there asked the exact same question, and without frustraton, Kirby retold the story exactly the same way. “Jack wanted to give that fan that moment, that memory. If I’m ever lucky enough, I hope I’m lucky enough to show that person the respect Jack Kirby showed that fan.”

The next year, Kirby invited Laird and Eastman to his house. “We saw ‘The Desk,'” he said. “We probably said four words the whole time. It was awesome. I always start any panel thanking my partner Peter Laird and say Peter and I stand on the shoulders of a giant — that’s Jack Kirby.”

Dunbier told a story about another San Diego encounter. Two 19-year-old college students were asking Kirby about an interview for their fanzine in the hallway. Kirby was kind and gracious, speaking with them. Bob Kane walked and stood in between Kirby and the students, saying, “Hey, Jack, haven’t seen you in a while, let’s go get lunch and catch up!” According to Dunbier, Kirby side-stepped so he would be facing both Kane and the students and said, “Bob, I want you to meet my new friend, so and so. Bob, we’re in the middle of a conversation, so why don’t we catch up a little bit later?” Dunbier was impressed at how Kirby made sure the moment wasn’t ruined for the students, but also made sure not to let Kane have a bad experience. “Another story about what an incredible guy he was,” Dunbier said.

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Goldstein said Wood was unique in that he took proof sheets from artist editions and made wallpaper. “Artist edition wallpaper, coming next year from IDW!” Goldstein joked.

Wood talked about being a “late-70s DC kid,” enjoying Jim Aparo, Neal Adams and John Byrne. He learned to read from comic books, even putting books in mylar at age 9. “A Kirby comic when placed in front of me confused me,” Wood admitted. “I’d look at an issue of New Gods and think, ‘I’m too dumb for this!'” Back issues and war comics brought him to recognize the genius of Kirby, and he saw that love reflected in Captain America: The First Avenger and the footage from Thor: Ragnarok.

Simonson talked about how he owned the original Kirby art of the first appearance of the Asgardian superweapon The Destroyer. He pointed out that Kirby would draw characters with the same silhouette, but change the costume within the story instead of being consistent. “If you start looking at details, they change from panel to panel. If you were to do that now, I’m not entirely sure how fans would behave. His imagination was so active and so powerful. He reinvented stuff in every panel. He was like Prometheus, bringing fire to man. He was a watershed artist in a way that I’m not sure is even possible now. I can’t think of anybody else who had that effect on the industry.”

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