Although Jack Kirby passed away in 1994, his contributions to the world of comic arts are still alive and well. Acclaimed author Neil Gaiman, writer and artist Tony Isabella and Kirby family attorney Paul S. Levine gathered together in a panel moderated by long time friend of Kirby, Mark Evanier.
Evanier began by sharing a prediction Kirby made years ago regarding the San Diego convention. “Someday that convention is going to take over the city of San Diego. It’s going to be the place where Hollywood comes every year to sell what they made last year and find out what they’re going to make next year.” Evanier shared that he was skeptical in the moment, but has come to see that Kirby was correct.
Evanier went on to discuss the constant flurry of Internet arguing, gossip and rumors surrounding Kirby’s legacy. “There’s a lot of arguing going on in the Internet. A lot of people are furious, there are a lot of flame wars going on,” Evanier said. “There’s a certain amount of people who belittle Jack, I think partly because it’s an attention-getting device, and partly because they don’t like being told what’s wonderful.”
He expressed that Kirby was not a competitive man and focused on taking pride in his work instead of comparing himself to other artists. Kirby viewed every artistic opportunity as a chance to reinvent comics. Evanier shared that in his experiences with Kirby, he never heard him speak ill of another artist. Evanier encouraged the audience not to get angry when another person said they didn’t like Kirby’s work. “You’re a Jack Kirby fan,” he said. “Be proud of it!”
After the applause died down, Evanier asked the crowd if anyone had any Kirby-related announcements to share. Barry Geller of the “Lord of Light” project reminded the audience of Kirby’s participation in the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Kirby created a series of drawings used by Tony Mendez of the C.I.A. to craft a cover story of a fictional film team entering Tehran to scout for locations for a sci-fi film. Geller wrote the script for this cover film. The operation, which was depicted in the 2012 film “Argo,” was a success and the lives of six people were saved. Geller announced that he was coming out with a brand-new set of the drawings used in the operation, which will be for sale in a month or two. A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit The Kirby Museum.
Isabella, who wrote “Captain America” just before Kirby returned to the book, shared his recent experience with revisiting the series. Isabella had no idea Kirby was going to return to the book and spent a solid week planning a bicentennial event for the story, which he intended to run for 8 issues. Isabella was not upset about being removed from the book. “If you’re gonna be knocked off a book,” he laughed. “It should be by the creator.”
Recently, Marvel reprinted Kirby’s run on “Captain America,” which Isabella read and admitted that in the past he hadn’t closely read Kirby’s Cap stories, but immediately fell in love with them once he sat down and read them all. “If you haven’t read that run lately, I urge you to read it,” he implored. “Read it as if it was the only comic book being published in the Marvel Universe. You will just delight in it.”
The conversation turned toward recent superhero movies based on comic book characters and how Kirby’s influence was seen in the films. Gaiman spoke about his recent favorite. “I enjoyed ‘The Avengers.’ It was exactly what it said on the label. It felt ‘Jack’ in many places. It felt Jack in odd places — the gloriously irrational things. Of course if you’re going to have a secret base you need it to be about 30,000 miles up, impeding air traffic,” he said, delighting the audience. “You can see that wonderful ‘Jack’ quality to it.”
Evanier added that he saw the first “X-Men” movie and didn’t like it, finding the amount of CGI overwhelming and noisy. “I would’ve walked out on it, except I was sitting next to Stan Lee,” he explained. He waited through the credits to see if Kirby’s name would be mentioned. He noted it was fourth from the end, between the public parks thanked for allowing the team to film. It was at that time Evanier decided not to see any more of the blockbuster superhero movies.
The credit Kirby receives as an influencing force, even in non-comic book films, was discussed, including an interesting point of view from Gaiman. “At this point, I definitely feel like one reason why Jack doesn’t get the acknowledgment and acclaim he should is because he’s too big. It’s why people in Times Square fail to notice they’re in America, it’s too big. You don’t notice the hugeness. In Jack’s case, we’ve now had 70 years of the influence of Jack Kirby on other artists and writers, and its just gotten huger and huger. So many artists who we think of as trailblazers in comics started off being influenced by Jack.”
Gaiman continued, sharing an unlikely source for seeing Kirby’s influence brought to life. “A few years ago I was on the set of ‘Hellboy 2’ with Guillermo del Toro. I remember sitting with Guillermo for about half an hour talking about Jack’s run on ‘The Demon.’ We were really just talking about a couple of pages, the Klarion the Witchboy sequence, and talking about the way Jack picks his images. It’s a very creepy little sequence where the cops come and check out what’s going on in Klarion the Witchboy’s apartment. Everybody has been turned into something; it’s a very odd little sequence. It was that moment that I realized how much of the way Guillermo tells stories, image by image, goes back to him being a kid who read Jack. Going and seeing a film like ‘Pacific Rim,’ on one hand, yes, it’s giant mech monsters, but for me there’s nothing in ‘Pacific Rim’ that couldn’t’ have been a Jack Kirby comic.”
As Gaiman said, the influence of The King of Comics has spread far and wide among the entire pop culture industry. The audience was incredibly appreciative of the stories, insights and memories shared about the beloved Jack Kirby, with several individuals expressing their anticipation for next year’s tribute panel.
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