STATUS: False Enough for a False (but a lot of True involved)
Reader Brett wrote in to ask:
I recently heard that Jack Kirby's Kamandi began as a pitch by DC for a licensed Planet of the Apes comic. Know whether this is true or not?
Well, Brett, that sounds like one of those ever famous "telephone game" situations, where the real story is close ENOUGH to what you just wrote that it is very likely that the story was just told enough times that the details kept getting fuzzier over each telling until it ended up in the version you heard.
The truth is that yes, Kamandi WAS tied in with Planet of the Apes, but in an odder way than you would imagine.
First off, Planet of the Apes came out in 1968 and was a smash hit.
The first comic book adaptation of the Planet of the Apes was actually Gold Key, who did an adaptation to the first sequel to the film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
Soon after Carmine Infantino became the publisher of DC Comics, he wanted to acquire the license to make Planet of the Apes comic books, since the film series was very popular (a new sequel came out once a year from 1970-1973).
He was rebuffed in his attempts, so he tasked Jack Kirby with coming up with a comic book that was LIKE Planet of the Apes.
Now Kirby had not actually seen the film, but he knew the basic gist of the story, and surely enough, Kirby had done a story years earlier in 1957 (before the novel, Planet of the Apes, was written, let alone the film adaptation) when he was working for Harvey Comics' Alarming Tales, about a post-apocalyptic future where talking anthropomorphic animals ruled the world.
Here are a few pages from that tale...
So this was definitely something Kirby was comfortable with.
As for the name, Kirby had a comic strip pitch that had not been picked up called Kamandi of the Caves from 1956.
Here are a few of the unpublished Kamandi strips...
So there Kirby had the basic plot for his series as well as the name of his main character.
Later, Infantino would suggest that he came up with the basic concept for Kamandi and Kirby ran with it, but I dunno, that doesn't seem to match up with Kirby's Alarming Tales story as well as the comic strip.
Kirby wrote and drew Kamandi for 37 issues and drew another three.
Lasting for 59 issues, Kamandi was the most successful comic launched during Kirby's 1970s tenure at DC Comics.
Annoyingly enough, though, when Kirby pitched the idea, his intention was that someone else would write and draw it, as he wanted to devote his time to his Fourth World comics. Infantino "helped" Kirby out by canceling Forever People so Kirby could devote his time to Kamandi (Infantino "helped" Kirby out in a similar fashion when he canceled New Gods so that Kirby could launch The Demon).
Much to Infantino's chagrin, I'm sure, Marvel ended up getting the Planet of the Apes license in 1974.
And amusingly, Kirby later made a pitch for a Planet of the Apes animated series that ended up not getting picked up.
So there ya go, Brett - it has a lot of what you heard, but not exactly as you heard it!