INTERVIEW: Mark Evanier Celebrates Legacy of Kirby: King of Comics

Mark Evanier’s 2008 Eisner Award-winning book Kirby: King of Comics has just been reissued in a softcover edition from Abrams Books with new material, in time for what would have been Jack Kirby's 100th birthday -- Aug. 28, 2017.

Maybe this doesn’t need to be explained on a comics website, but Jack Kirby was not just one of the great creators of American comics, but one of the visionary creative figures of 20th century American culture. The creator or co-creator of hundreds of characters, he started working professionally as a teenager. After serving on the European front during World War II, he returned to comics where he worked in just about every genre. He will always be associated with superheroes, though, and invented a lot of the vocabulary that continues to define the genre.

With Aug. 28th marking the Jack Kirby Centennial, CBR caught up with Evanier to talk about the book, ask about the full-length biography he’s been working on in recent years, and talk about his former boss and mentor; the late great Jack Kirby.

CBR: The new chapter in the book talks about the settlement between the Kirby family and [Marvel parent company] the Walt Disney Company. Obviously a lot of that is confidential, but Kirby now gets credited where before he never used to. As someone who knew him and who worked so long for this, what has it meant to see that?

Mark Evanier: A lot. I met Jack in 1969 and since that day, it always bothered me that he was not getting his due; that some people thought all he did was draw up Stan's ideas. No one who was around then believed that but too many outsiders did. I do not get mad at very much, but there were times when it did make me mad, as well as times when I just felt very bad about it. I got mad at the closing credits in the first X-Men movie, for instance. I also didn't like the movie and would have walked out on it except that I was sitting next to Stan Lee in the theater.

Anyway, I didn't go see the other Marvel movies when Jack was not properly credited. Now that he is, I have some catching-up to do. The settlement lifted an enormous burden from me -- and yes, I know it's too late. But with a settlement, you have to settle for what you can get.

Besides this book, I know that you’ve been working on a longer, more in-depth biography of Jack Kirby. How is that coming?

I'd say it's 85 percent done. The delays have not been because of laziness but because of a few legal blockades and also because every so often, I come across a new, unanticipated source of info. It will get done. I've just learned to not say when.

Every year at Comic-Con in San Diego you moderate a Jack Kirby Tribute Panel. What was this year’s panel like?

It was great, I thought. Just to see what would happen, I invited all sorts of people to wander in and join the dais so we had Mike Royer, Walt Simonson, Kurt Busiek, Jon Bogdanove, Dan DiDio, Paul Levitz, Jim Chadwick, Marv Wolfman, Brent Anderson, Athena Finger. I can't recall the entire list at the moment but it felt like the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera up there, plus we had Jack's daughter Lisa and three grandkids in the audience. It was just a whole bunch of interesting, creative people talking about Jack, who was himself an interesting, creative person.

Do you have a favorite comic of Kirby’s? I’m not asking for best, necessarily, but one you love, one that has meaning for you or you wish more people knew?

That's one of those questions that if you put it to me 10 times, you'll get 10 answers. One of the things that amazes me about Jack's work is how well it fares in repeated readings. There are a lot of comics -- including some real good ones -- that if you read them once or even twice, you get pretty much everything that's in there. But for example, I reread The Fourth World books every year or so and every time I do, I notice something and think, “That wasn't there the last 10 times I read this. Someone snuck in at night and added it to my copies.”

At the moment, my answer is Jack's run on The Losers. I thought it was a terrible idea to assign him that book but he really made it work.

In recent years, we've seen a lot of the old Simon and Kirby stories reprinted which I think has been a revelation for a lot of us, because so much of what we know about Kirby is his Marvel and DC work. Will we hopefully see his later books in print in different forms? That might help expand the definition of what a Kirby comic is.

I think just about everything Jack ever did is either in print or about to be in print. There may be legal barriers to some of it, like maybe the 2001 material. But there seems to be market for everything he did so you'll get everything he did or something close to it.

What do you think Kirby would make of a state of comics today?

I think he'd be thrilled to see so many new people doing so many new things. And I think he'd read a lot of it, not understand it and just think, “Well, they're not writing for 100-year-olds.”

The paperback version of Mark Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics is available now from Abrams Books.

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