Sunday, June 3, 2012

On Agents

      I've had three agents with various success. Always dealt with the AD after the agents got the assignment. Artists need to form a relationship with the AD and the people who are working with them. This is two-fold: your agent might not really understand the AD's instructions, or subtle comment. The agent isn't really equipped to hash out alternative ideas with them. Art is not a game of telephone. The other reason is that you will be working with staff members that you may end up working for. It also allows you to understand the way the business operates and how you interact while there. In some situations I acted like a professional illustrator, or like an idiot in the MAD offices. Friendships and connections cannot be underestimated. Especially the friendship part. I am still great friends with many people I met in the publishing field even though they never handed me a job. And, by the way, artists MUST get out of the house, interact with peers, and get some external stimulation. It's not a job, it's an adventure.
     An added bonus is that you occasionally get to meet your heroes. I'd turn a job at MAD early Friday afternoon and just hung around to see who else was turning in a job. "Good Lord! Jaffee just pulled out his new fold-in!"
     Being on-site also  allows you to interact with the production department. I'd make suggestions about what type-face might look good and the colors I would use to complement the art. I was at ACE once and the head production guy pulled me aside and said "I don't know if Frank told you this but your lilac background color won't look anything like this when it's printed." He was right. Lesson learned.
     Back to the topic of agents. Advertising. The cost to the artist is approximately 80-85%, so you must be careful about promotional items. I took out a full-page color ad in Workbook for a pretty penny and didn't get a single job from it. Glen Barr Jr. and I were talking about this, "Greg, just saw your new ad. Cool." "Any job openings over there?" "Hell no, if they want your style the Jr. AD will show me your page and tell me to copy it."
     Much better to target an audience. Find companies that do what you do best and tell your agent to contact them. I got a few jobs from my agent and really didn't want to do them but did. Just because you have an agent doesn't mean you don't have a say in what you do.
     Outside work. My agent and I always had an understanding that I could do assignments that I found without a fee. It was my work that got the job, not somebody selling my work.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The End of an Era

After the sale of Marvel Comics to Perfect Film Martin Goodman continued to run the company until 1974.
Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Jack had all taken care of Martin Goodman, but when it was time to enjoy a fraction of the millions realized, hobo Marty didn’t want to share.
If you’d like to learn how to take advantage of people, learn to put your arm around them and promise that they’ll be taken care of, then leave them in the dust.
Perfect Film had contracted Goodman to stay on as publisher for two more years and at the end of 1970 he chopped line. From about 15% reprint titles to 25%.  Reprints in the humor division, SGT. FURY and RAWHIDE KID.
If Goodman didn’t care before, he cared even less now.
For the most part, Stan and Jack had been pals during their association. They worked well together and mutually respected each other’s talents. However, the smooth sailing was disrupted by an outside source and Stan took the heat.
It all began in January of 1966 when Stan was contacted by HERALD TRIBUNE for a piece to be published in their Sunday section. On a visit to Stan’s offices, he pulled me over to a newspaper article laminated to a board and remarked, “Here, I’ll tell you the worst thing.  Come here, I want to show you the thing that I think really made Jack and his wife so unhappy.  Now, because it was terrible.
“Years ago, this was the Herald-Tribune, before it was killed in New York City.  It was one of the big papers in New York.  They said they were going to do a big interview with me—it was a section of the Herald-Tribune.  Now what they did, they said,  “We’re going to give you a center spread in that, because we really want to write about Marvel and what you’ve done,” and I said, “You know, I work with a guy called Jack Kirby, who has done so much of this artwork and he deserves so much credit.  Would you mind if Jack was there and you interviewed the two of us?” and they said okay.  I don’t know who the guy–a guy named Matt Friedlander, I didn’t know him from Adam.  So I told Jack I’d like him to be there for the interview.  Jack got real excited and his wife–oh, they told all of their friends,  “Oh, you’ve got to buy it the next day,” and so forth.  They wrote glowingly about me.  “Stan Lee, a native New Yorker, an ultra-Madison Avenue rangy look-alike of Rex Harrison. He’s got that horsy jaw, thinning but tasteful grey hair–” It was really very glamorous.  Now, they don’t mention Kirby.  It’s all how wonderful I am.  At the end–uh,  “Lee arrives”--ah,  “Here he is in action at his Friday morning meeting with Jack “King” Kirby, a veteran comic book artist, the man who created many of the visions of your child and mine.  The “King” is a middle-aged man with baggy eyes and a baggy Robert Hall-ish suit.  He is sucking a huge green cigar and if you sat next to him on the subway, you’d peg him for the assistant foreman in a girdle factory.
“And it says Lee is talking and then, ‘Um,’ says Kirby. Lee starts pacing up, gesturing as he gets warmed up.  ‘I see,’ says Kirby.  He has kind of a high-pitched voice...” and it goes on and on.  It was so insulting to Kirby.
“Now, here’s the thing.  I’m sitting there, Kirby’s sitting there, the guy is interviewing us.  I don’t know what he’s going to write, Kirby doesn’t know.  Well, the next morning, the phone rang at about five in the morning and it’s Jack’s wife Roz and she’s crying.  I said,  “Hello?”–maybe the house was on fire, maybe my daughter was in trouble, I couldn’t imagine.  Who phones at five in the morning on Sunday?  [Choked voice]  “This is Roz Kirby.”  “What’s the matter?”  “How could you have done this to us?”  Done what?
  “Our whole family, I told them, all our friends--how could you?”  I didn’t know what she was talking about!  She says, “Read the paper!”  I went down and got the paper.  It was done.  I called back and said,  “Roz, I was trying to do Jack a favor!”  Well, you can say what you want about Roz and Jack--they are not a sophisticated couple.  I think to this day they think I had something to do with that, you know?  I finally calmed them down, I think we made up, but I think deep down there has always been a tremendous resentment on Jack’s part: “Stan gets all the glory, Stan’s name is in the book he produced...”  “I’m the guy who did it and I’m just another–” you know and it’s just terrible!”
ANOTHER guy who wants to give me lumps, resonated. Kirby knew how to deal with that: the face to face was his specialty. Martin Goodman was faceless and he allowed Martin Goodman to screw him twice because he needed to keep the family eating. And it didn’t matter if you had Joe Simon on your side, or Stan Lee in the middle, Goodman was gonna screw you every time he could.
And he was rich: a multi-millionaire.
What the hell was $50,000 to him? To the Kirbys it would have made a world of difference. Not so much to pay the bills, but to finally have the top guy admit that you’d lined his pockets in a very green manner returned percentage, in a Timely fashion.
The only thing making him any real money at the time was Marvel Comics and it was all on the backs of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
Goodman screwed Steve “Spider-Man” Ditko too.
Ditko didn’t need Goodman. His passive-aggressive chopping of any communication to the top was a clear signal that something had to be addressed. And, when it didn’t, Ditko bolted. He even invited Kirby to join him, but Jack, unlike Steve, had a family to take care of.
With every heartbeat, Goodman seems more and more like Motown’s Barry Gordy and his sad belief that the cogs below him were just machine parts and not human beings with needs and expectations based on promises. And reward for effort.
Goodman rode the rails during the Great Depression and lived a “What I’ve got, you’ve got” existence, yet not so much, years later at his company. It was like Joel McRea riding the chain gang in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS and turning out to be a rat in the end.
Maybe Goodman’s bum days reminded him of having to share and poverty. And it was somehow the same with Kirby. Odd, or telling, that the men rarely spoke. Haunted men who recognized each other’s past and avoided each other’s present.
Kirby once related, “I know one of the publishers who had plenty of money and died under splendid circumstances. Who used to wake up at night in a cold sweat because some memory of the Ghetto had come back to him.”
Previously, Joe Simon did all of the suing in Jack’s interest: at the very least he’d double your salary with a move to a new company. But, Stan Lee wasn’t about to sue Uncle Martin Goodman and it didn’t take long for Kirby to figure out that his pal didn’t have his best interests at heart and Jack broke the partnership.
Kirby had so gotten into the routine of having Simon act as his surrogate father and Lee picked up the slack that had developed. It certainly seemed like the same kind of association: Lee acted out stories with him; always let him draw stories all day; make sure it gets lettered, inked, colored and sent out on time; and give him a big fat paycheck on Friday. Their names were always on the comics together and they were partners and doesn’t a partner take care of you?
His partner had always let him do what he wanted to do. If Jack only wanted to write, so be it. If Jack wanted to do a western, that was a done deal. If it was a horror job, nobody was going to muck with it.
Or was it that the whole thing had been a sham and in the end Stan was only interested in himself and the company? And the man who had replaced the man who had replaced his father was letting him down and a teen-age rebellion began to set in. Kirby was itching to move out of the House of Ideas and into his own place.
Occasionally, Jack would remark, “If you want to understand Stan Lee, read WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN?”
The 1941 novel by Bud Schulberg which details the rise of Sammy Glick, poor kid from the Lower East Side of Manhattan’s pre-Depression years. Sammy screws-over everybody he knows to get to the top. Once there he finds himself alone.
The SILVER SURFER debacle really was the final straw, Kirby was making a fortune at Marvel, but the price didn’t include his soul and Jack screwed off the faucet tight, like “that.” And Roz certainly got the vibe. She’d come into his studio late at night and say, “Don’t turn in that page. It’s too good for Mah-vl.”
And Jack started over, post-haste, consciously not doing his best work.
Marvel’s cash cow dried up in a heartbeat. Jack decided that he wasn’t going to try so hard anymore. He’d poured heart and brain into that thing for years and the best that he could get was the companies’ top rate, but no script/plot credits, no promised residuals, health benefits, nor vacations. Or, cash for constructing stories Stan was taking a check for. Jack liked the freedom Marvel allowed, but there came a realization that he was getting screwed and his partner had no intention of covering his back.
In an article in THE VILLAGE VOICE (Dec. 8, 1987), Jack remarked “This has to get you angry, ‘take it or get out’ was the wall I faced. Where could I go with a mortgage and a family to feed? In advertising that I didn’t understand? To the pulps that were gone?”
Worse, the new owners of the company wanted a final say in how THOR and THE FANTASTIC FOUR were handled.
The $250,000 (adjusted for inflation) per-year paycheck at Marvel was going to be hard to replace, but Kirby knew it was time for a change.
During most of the 1960s Kirby didn’t think much one way or the other about the writing credit, but with the advent of fandom and a place to finally meet his readers, a realization came over him: “The fans think Stan makes up the story and then I draw it!” Lots of kids were shocked when Kirby explained his involvement with the story, but many of us already knew it. The simple fact was that few of the non-Ditko and Kirby books from the decade don’t offer much more than mediocre stories.
Once Jack understood the misunderstanding he began fending for himself, for the first time in a long time.
Jack Kirby’s back was against the wall, once again, this time heading for the door.
These guys had betrayed him, all of them, in one way or another, intentional or not and it was not going to happen again. Next time he’d cut a proper deal, all by himself and it would be a good one, see?

The Last Lee/Kirby Production

In the fall of 1976, Stan Lee had an offer that was hard to refuse. Kirby was informed that the film rights to the SILVER SURFER had been sd by Hollywood and was going to feature a Rock Opera score. Simon and Shuster had contracted to publish a 100 page Graphic Novel and everybody wanted Jack to draw it. The kicker was that Lee and Kirby would own the copyright to the story, so if the piece was turned into a movie, big bucks loomed. If it was a successful movie, it would probably translate to Broadway, more bucks looming. At the very least, royalties.
Once agreed, Kirby and Lee had their last plot session. The idea was to produce an alternate version of GALACTUS/SURFER origin for producer Lee Kramer. The FANTASTIC FOUR, as well as most of the Marvel Universe, were already sd to other companies, so they couldn’t be included. Kramer wanted a strong female character so his then-girlfriend Olivia Newton-John would have a juicy role. He’d produced a television special and XANADU for her in 1980 and the SILVER SURFER was to be her next feature film.
In a cover story written for PREVIEW MAGAZINE (XXX. 1980), writer James Burns offered quotes from Kramer: “I originally got turned onto THE SILVER SURFER in the 1960s when the character first appeared, but I wasn't in any way involved in this business at the time,"
“Once I WAS in a position to negotiate for the comic’s film rights, I jumped at the chance to get them.
“Stan Lee (THE SILVER SURFER’s co-creator, with Jack Kirby and Marvel Comics' publisher) and I get along very well, but he's totally into the idea of doing THE SILVER SURFER as a Rock Opera. I don't think that the Rock Opera films have worked too well; there's a need for dialogue to tie a movie together. Music, however, WILL play a very important part in the film. We're going to make an epic picture on the scope of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with the kind of soundtrack that that film had, only using CONTEMPORARY rock and roll. It's even conceivable that the SURFER might have a chant or a fanfare made up of ONE THOUSAND ELECTRIC GUITARS...!
”I’m really very lucky,” Lee finishes. “Doing THE SILVER SURFER has ALWAYS been a dream of mine and now it's going to be realized.”
At Marvel, Joe Sinnott had agreed to ink the book with the stipulation that he receive credit just under Lee and Kirby. When the book arrived his credit in the back of the book.
When Jack turned in his pages to Stan, they were accompanied by a fully realized plot on paper. When Stan called for changes, Kirby was again displeased, but acted like a professional and complied. After all, a lot of money was being gambled,
When Newton-John split up with Kramer, the producer no longer had the star-power to attract investors and the production collapsed.
To everyone involved in the project, it was a tremendous disappointment, but in retrospect it was a huge success. THE SILVER SURFER was one of the earliest attempts to produce comics for the bookstore market and out of the shrinking Ghetto of newsstand comic books.
The evolution of the medium was crawling along but Jack Kirby’s evolution couldn’t be contained. Over the course of his last tenure at Marvel, both the art and the dialogue moved towards abstraction and Jack’s shorthand for reality was becoming harder to recognize. In a strange step in the progression of his writing, Jack began to place quotation marks around important words in a line and it looked strange to the readers. There was also a tendency for Jack to press the envelope when it came to the human form and he was achieving greater emotional impact at the expense of relative accuracy.
Fans of the time wanted pretty pictures that demanded little interpretation and more realistic drawing: Jack’s style and market trends had moved in separate directions.

Lee no longer overseeing line and the results were close to chaotic.
Changes to Kirby’s books, most notably removal of quotes.
Kirby asks Lee to intervene. Lee agrees w. Kirby
In 1978, editor-in-chief Archie Goodwin stepped down and Jim Shooter stepped up. While I rarely heard Kirby utter a critical word about anyone, Jim Shooter was excluded from that policy. Jack had an open disdain for the man and would frequently point out where he thought Shooter was failing. Seems like the only time Jack had anything to say about the Comics of the period was in the context of Jim Shooter.
With the one man at Marvel he felt he could trust missing from action, Kirby’s enthusiasm dipped to a new low.
Marvel staffers convinced Stan to let Evanier dialogue Kirby’s books, with a plan to get rid of Mark and do it themselves. Marvel mad for him not stepping in to solve their problems, Kirbys mad for trying to take over.
Caused long rift.

Whenever I talked to Jack, he’d never mention the stress and his anger the situation was causing him, but when Roz was on the line it was another matter. “Shooter keeps asking for changes and you know Jack, he hates to make changes. They argue on the phone about it and it isn’t good for Jack’s health. I’m afraid he’ll have a heart-attack and die.”
Once his Marvel contract expired, Kirby decided that he’d had enough of Comics management and retired from the business.
“That’s it, Greg. I’m out of comics for good and it feels great! It’s a relief! From now on I’m concentrating on my animation work.”
Jack seemed very happy about his retirement, but it was a sad situation for the fans.  Forty years had passed since he’d penciled his first page of Comic Art at the birth of the business.  He’d taken a crude medium and showed that it had literary and artistic potential and was as valid a form of communication as any other.
In return, the industry had abused him over his last twenty years: insulted by upstarts who hadn’t yet been born when Jack Kirby had codified the form.
Still, it was a final break from Marvel and Jack Kirby finally felt like a free man for the first time in a long time. He’d never have to listen to a poorly socialized editor yell at him ever again, never receive terrible mail and Marvel Comics couldn’t hurt him anymore.
The terms of Kirby’s contract offered a weekly check for fifteen pages of art and story, but there had been many months when he didn’t produce his quota because Marvel didn’t have a book for him. Several months after the publication of the SURFER book, Kirby inquired about royalties and got this answer.

September 13, 1979

Robert Lloyd Rubinstein, Esq. Fleishman, Brown, Weston & Rohde 433 North Camden Drive
Beverly Hills, California 90210

Dear Mr. Rubinstein:
Your-letter of August 21, 1979 to Messrs. Galton and Lee of the Marvel Comics Group has been referred to me.
For your information Simon and Schuster paid Marvel the entire $15,000 advance to Marvel; $7,500 was paid, in December 1976 and an additional $7,500 was paid in July 1978. Your letter is correct in stating that Marvel paid Mr. Kirby $2,250.00 in December 1976. Mr. Kirby has not received any additional money from this book (Marvel has not received any other money from Simon and Schuster for “The Silver Surfer” book) because when Mr. Kirby left Marvel’s employ he owed Marvel $5,865.00 worth of unfinished work. Prior to Mr. Kirby’s departure from Marvel he agreed that the money earned from the “Silver Surfer” book would be used by Marvel to offset his uncompleted work obligation. Even under your method of calculation, Mr. Kirby would be entitled to $4,500 from the “Silver Surfer” advances; thus, he would still owe Marvel $1,365.00.
Very truly yours,
Thea J. Kerman

The Big Animation Circle

In The Comics Journal #167 Published shortly after Kirby's death collected tributes from industry professionals. Jim Woodring remembered,  “I met Jack in 1982, when I began work at Ruby Spears Productions. Jack was their star designer (that's "star designer" not charity case.); his job was to work at home on large drawings of characters, hardware and environments.”
“Every Monday he would saunter in with a thick stack under his arm. All the in-house cartoonists would gather to look at them one by one and pore over them. Jack was treated with great respect because he was an elder and a legend, but the awed admiration we all demonstrated for his work was not polite deference. His drawings were inspirational to all of us. He was like a wild spraying geyser of the substance we struggled pitifully to evoke in driblets. Even those among us who had never read super hero comics and saw Jack without his aura, so to speak, stood in awe of him. He was more than a master: he was the comic book impulse incarnate.
“We loved to draw him out in conversation because he was completely unpredictable: his mind was nimble and unfettered by convention. I never heard him tell an anecdote that was not heavily spiced with benign absurdity. As with his drawing there was something precociously fragile about his sledgehammer approach to storytelling. One sensed that a hard life had made Jack tough, but that the great child’s heart of which he was the custodian had been sheltered and saved at all costs and that this heart was the force that drove him.”
Jack’s first professional work was in animation and much of his last work would be there, though he probably never would have guessed it. At the Fleisher Studio he was an every-other-frame kind of guy, commanded to draw like another artist, or else.  California animation was a much different take on the industry. Jack had won his fame in the years between and was rewarded with top-of-the-artistic-totem-pole status. Management and staff all admired his talent, the former paying him well and the latter paying respect.
It made Kirby’s later years in Comics seem like time killed in a snake pit.
In 1978, while still working for Marvel, Kirby produced thirteen sets of storyboards for DePattie-Freling Enterprises’ animated FANTASTIC FOUR show and it was the first assignment in his new career.  For the first time in his life his employer was paying for his family’s health insurance, topped off with the first paid vacation in his life. Though, chances are pretty good he worked on something else those two weeks.
In early 1980 Jack worked at Hanna-Barbara in the design department for the SUPERFRIENDS HOUR, a show featuring many of the D.C. Super heros. That season’s shows also included the FLINTSTONES, YOGI BEAR and RICHIE RICH characters, so work at the studio was limited. While there, Jack met Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, both large fans of the King and his art.
The team opened their studio shortly after and immediately offered Kirby all of the work he could handle. Assignments at Ruby-Spears consisted of drawing the secondary characters on any given program, designs for props and vehicles, set designs and presentation boards.
Animation studios would pitch new series to the networks with the aid of the large, colorful concept drawings. Jack penciled these on boards that were as big as his drawing table and they were later inked and colored by the Ruby/Spears art department.  As Saturday morning only has so many hours, dozens of shows were pitched but never produced. Unrealized series Kirby worked on include: POWER PLANET; FUTURE FORCE; STREET ANGELS; WARRIORS OF ILLUSION; MICROMITES and too many more to list.
One proposal that did sell was THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN (Oct. 4, 1980), the story of life after the collapse of civilization.

In an on-line interview:  What was the inspiration for THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN and how did the show come about?

Joe Ruby:  I had gotten hold of some action/adventure magazines to see what was the latest in this arena. I noticed a story that Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to make a movie based on the CONAN THE BARBARIAN stories. Usually, we waited until a movie was released to see how well it did, especially with kids, then we'd develop shows in that arena. But, this time I decided to develop a show in the swords and sorcery arena a year before the movie came out. That way, if it worked, we'd have a show on the air at the same time as the movie.
And hopefully our show would do as well as we thought the movie would do.

Alex Toth had done the main character designs, but was unavailable to do any more, so Ruby and Spears turned to Jack Kirby, an artist with much experience with post-holocaust worlds: they reminded him of The Lower East Side, or his time in the service. Over the course of twenty-one episodes, Kirby created the design elements of a world gone mad, at a very good rate.
At the San Diego ComicCon in 2008:

Joe Ruby:  Steve Gerber was at Ruby-Spears, doing THUNDARR, with Alex Toth character designs. ABC was waffling: they wanted to see more art. All of a sudden, we got the pickup. We needed a new artist. We wanted it to be a hard looking show, not soft like the others. John Dorman recommended Jack and Steve also. Jack came over, very unassuming, very cordial, humble. I said ‘you’re hired.’ He started turning out character designs that blew me away. The pages were dynamic and jumped out at you.
Jack wasn’t just an artist, he was a creator. He created very distinctive characters, people or creatures, whatever they were. He created with a story in mind. He would put story behind his creations. He had a philosophical view. Where are these characters coming from? That all came out on the paper. Jack had it. He had it all. And prolific. You’d ask for 2 or 3 pages, you’d get a stack. We put him under contract for six years.

Ken Spears:  My relationship with Jack was entirely different from Joe’s. We started at Hanna-Barbera in the late ‘50s. When we got our chance to open our studios, we decided one of us was going to be Hanna, the other Barbera. (At Hanna-Barbera, Bill Hanna handled the business side of the company while Joe Barbera supervised the art side.) Joe jumped at it and said ‘I’ll be Barbera; you can be Hanna.’ So I was running the studio from a production standpoint: I had to worry about budgets. ‘Who is this Jack Kirby and why is he costing us so much?’ The one nice thing is he got us a really good rate on our storage fees because of the volume of work he put out.”

In a NEW YORK TIMES article from April 12, 2010, Spears recalled, “Many times, he didn’t have enough to do, or there weren’t enough assignments,” Mr. Spears said. “He was such a prolific guy that he would, on his own, just start sketching out some thoughts.”
Jack told me, “If I weren't working for those guys, I would have lost the house.” Jack had a very secure life in the ‘80s, Mark Evanier related, saying, “He had a house, a steady paycheck, health insurance and he was out of Comics, all thanks to Joe and Ken.”
According to Evanier, during the time Kirby worked at Ruby-Spears, he had a heart attack, but, worried that he’d lose his job if they knew he was ill, he told Ruby & Spears that he’d been in an auto accident. All of his hospital bills were covered by the health insurance plan he was able to get because of his employment with the studio. He had never had health insurance prior to this time.
Everything was best when Jack had someone to watch over him.
I remember sitting in a quiet Jack Kirby studio, one sunny summer visit while the pool splashed just behind me and my Yiddishe Mamma wanders in with a stack of paper in her hands and asks if I wanted to see some of Jack’s art that had just been returned.
Undiscovered Armstrong? Hell, yes.
And she passes me half a ream of 8.5’x11’ typing paper covered with amazing graphite. For the next half-hour I peeled through a stack of 250 pages and peered into Kirby’s brain once again. Every production design was a home run and I lamented that they would probably never be mass-produced. I also lamented that I would probably never see them again.
During a brainstorming session at Ruby-Spears, Kirby and one of his bosses were trying to come up with a character to compete with their licensed RICHIE RICH, but having no luck. Kirby recalled, “The guy went to bathroom. He had his own private bathroom in his office. And he was gone for five or ten minutes, then the door swings open and he says ‘I’ve got it! GOLDIE GOLD!’”
GOLDIE GOLD AND ACTION JACK (Sep. 13, 1981) ran for a season and more than that you don’t want to know.
Always ready to capitalize on a popular trend, Ruby and Spears asked for a series called ROXIE’S RAIDERS. Inspired by RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC (Paramount, 1981) it was the story of an adventuress and her traveling circus and appears to be largely conceived by Jack.
I could detail Jack’s work on MR. T, TURBO TEEN, CHUCK NORRIS: KARATE KOMMANDOS, SECTAURS, THE CENTURIANS and RAMBO, but the only important thing at that point is that he was being well paid, got benefits and a vacation and had the respect of those around him.
Jack was on cruise-control when asked to come up with ideas. And, Ruby-Spears gladly employed him until 1987, under a six-year contract.
This kind of treatment erased a lot of pain caused by D.C. and Marvel and helped him reside on a mountaintop, with a swimming pool.
Like every other partner he’d ever had, R&S knew that Jack’s brain and soul could be successfully sold in a way he was never inclined to do, with a win-win result.
Somewhere above, Ma Kurtzberg probably admitted that she’d been wrong about Hollywood.
P.S. Jack finally got to be an actor when he appeared as a police sketch artist on THE INCREDIBLE HULK TV show “No Escape,” aired on March 30, 1978, no naked ladies in sight.

The "Car Accident"

As I warned in the introduction, some of my memories will be fuzzy and this will be one of them. I kick myself around the block for not making a note, but at the time it didn’t really seem that important. I got a distress call from Roz, telling me that they’d been in an automobile accident and that Jack was in the hospital.
“Oh my God!” I exclaimed,” Is he all right? Are his hands hurt?”
“No, he’s just a little shaken, but they want to keep him in the hospital for a couple of days for observation,” she responded.
Right? Unfortunate, but hardly historic.
It was a while before I understood that he’d had a stroke, or heart attack, or gas, depending on who you were talking to. About the time CAPTAIN VICTORY #3 (May 1982) hit my hands. It was Kirby art, but like none that I’d ever seen. What had always seemed effortless now seemed to be a struggle.
Since Jack only missed one San Diego ComicCon, in 1981, it must have occurred shortly before that.
In later years, Roz claimed that Jack had triple or quadruple by-pass surgery (depending on who she was talking to), but I went swimming with the guy pretty much to the end and saw no scars. I later asked Neal about it and he looked at me like I was off my rocker, denying it immediately.
Kirby’s health was a secret that was guarded like the crown jewels, even from extended family members.
There has been some discussion in Kirby biographies about Jack losing some of his eyesight and the result was a collapse of his artistic construction. While one eye was weaker than the other, Roz refuted this, “That’s simply not true. Jack never had problems with his eyesight. He had glasses because he was a little nearsighted. I’m the one with the bad eyes. I’m going to have to get my cataracts removed.”
The success of CAPTAIN VICTORY prompted management to offer Jack a second title. The other Kirby production for Pacific was SILVER STAR a character created in 1975 for a screenplay with Steve Sherman. The story deals with genetically altered humans, the chaos some of them bring and is as dark as anything he’d ever produced.

As an example, there was the time that Jack and his wife Roz and I met for lunch at the Copper Penny Restaurant that used to be across the street from the bungalows at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank. He wanted to know if I would ink this new comic book he was doing called Silver Star. I was busy working full time at Disney then and we hadn’t done a project together in a while, and he proceeded to tell me the story of Silver Star; and all through lunch I’m thinking. “My Gawd, all of this material in one issue?” No, what Jack had done was relate to me the complete six or seven issue saga. It was all in his head. So when he sat down to draw it and put his dialogue in, he already knew everything about his story. When I got the penciled pages, looking them over, sometimes I’d find an instance of something left out, maybe just a word or explanation of motivation or something. Jack didn’t realize it because he knew his plot and characters by heart. Roz did too. What he needed was an editor who had no vested interest in anything except “Does this part make sense to me?” At Marvel I believe the attitude was “We’ve got to rewrite this so that it’s Stan Lee type dialogue yadda-yadda-yadda.” Jack needed an editor but someone to just simply say, if they were unsure of a story point, or whatever, “Jack, I’m confused…is this what you meant?” Am I making any sense?

DB: Yeah.
MR: There were…I don’t remember how many Silver Stars that I inked. I always thought it was one but somebody said I did four or five of them, so geez…who knows. As it turned out, the screen cartoonists were on strike and so I was working for the studio at home (we’d pick up work at the Jack In The Box drive through across the street from the studio), rather than cross the picket line. It was a case where we (the creative department for consumer products) weren’t violating the strike; we were just honoring the strike by not crossing the picket line. We were doing work that had nothing to do with what the animation cartoonists were striking over. So we worked at home. Well, I could do in four or five hours what one could do in an office situation in twelve hours. I had plenty of time to work on Silver Star. But there were a couple of spots where I thought, “This is a little confusing.” So I thought about it and added a couple of words here and there in narrative and then it made sense. But like I say, people wanted to “fix” Jack.

CAPTAIN VICTORY and SILVER STAR are a lot like olives. Some saw the change in the art and winced, others viewed it with delight as yet another step into abstraction. The art was as powerful as it had always been, but now Jack seemed to be drawing more like he felt and less like a world any of us recognized. Pacific was doing quite well with publishing comics, but was having less success collecting cash for them. Many of the comic shops eventually switched to other distributors left Pacific holding the bag on three months of deliveries, resulting in red ink. As a result CAPTAIN VICTORY was canceled with #13 (Jan. 1983.)
Just as the bad news was settling in, Mike Thibodeaux walked through the door at Casa Kirby with a big smile on his face and announced, “I just quit my day job. Now I’m inking Jack Kirby full time!”
No word about a new Buick.
By August of 1984 Pacific was out of business

Jack Magic V.2 Pt.7

Finally, Respect

In the spring of 1984, much to their surprise, the Kirbys received a call from Jenette Kahn, the publisher of D.C. Comics. She was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel and wanted to have lunch with them. During the meal, she explained that D.C. had cut a deal with the Kenner Toys Company to license their heroes and villains and that she wanted to promote the Fourth World characters as a line of plastic figures and vehicles. If Jack would agree to redesign some of the characters and create new vehicles, D.C. would be willing to offer them a percentage of the profits.
The Kirbys were stunned.
They’d been so abused by the Comics industry, that any act of kindness was stunning. D.C. could have gone ahead with the line without paying Kirby a nickel, but were making a magnanimous gesture because management thought it was the right thing to do.
Another first.
At the same time, D.C. invited Jack to do a tie-in SUPER POWERS comic book mini-series of five books, but he declined, countering with an offer to plot the series, offer character designs and do the final issue, as well as all of the covers.
A large promotional poster featuring most of the company’s top heroes and villains was penciled and Mike Royer inked it. Unhappy with the result, D.C. tinkered with it and the result was a little irritating to Jack, but they had done him a huge favor so he kept quiet, as usual.
As the Royer-inked covers arrived, they too seemed to be a problem. It all came to a head with the fourth issue of SUPER POWERS, with a cover featuring Wonder Woman. The piece had been corrected several times, including alterations by editor-in-chief, Dick Giordano. I remember being in the hallway at DC watching Dick and special-projects editor Joe Orlando pulling their hair over the situation. Giordano looked at me and said, “Hey, you want to try inking the next cover?” He knew that Jack and I were close and it might be a way to defuse potential conflicts.
“Hells yes.”
So, when the next cover arrived, I inked it on a piece of frosted acetate, then traced off a finished copy on another piece of acetate. Very serious.  If I’d screwed-up the pencils, there was no going back and frankly, inking Kirby for the first time in the Comics almost made me tremble.  When I brought the cover in, Giordano smiled and commented, “I love the way you did AQUAMAN’s shirt.” Kirby loved it too, though no mention of shirts.
Having passed the audition, D.C. assigned me the last cover as well as the interiors. The pages, done at 150% of the printed size, were hardly Jack’s strongest work ever. Some of the drawing was askew and figures were out of proportion and I did my best to correct them while keeping the spirit of the pencils. Another problem was that Kirby was drawing characters he hadn’t created and didn’t give a damn about. Consequently, many of the costumes changed from panel to panel and SUPERMAN’s chest logo was always wrong.
Years before when Royer began inking, Jack laid down the law that his pencils were never to be altered in the finishing stage. As his art began to change, Royer and Berry were forced to simply trace the pencils, with varied results. I’d been illustrating for over decade and Jack must have thought that counted for something when he instructed me to ink as I pleased.
I was flattered.
The end result was a good looking book that all of the involved parties were satisfied with.
When Jeanette Kahn investigated the sales of the Fourth World books, she couldn’t understand why they had been cancelled. She reissued the NEW GODS, two stories to an issue, on a much better paper, with new wrap-around covers by Jack. The idea was that Kirby would now get to finish his opus in the final issue: DARKSIED and ORION would finally battle face to face.
When the story arrived Giordano was shocked to find that it wasn’t what they had discussed. Shocked, shocked and amazed. Dick called California and Kirby took it badly. They told him he could finish the saga and now it wasn’t good enough.
Joe Orlando smoothed things over and Kirby agreed to draw a new end and wrap a story around other pages for a Graphic Novel.
As a goodwill gesture, Orlando and SUPER POWERS editor Andy Helfer visited Thousand Oaks. When they arrived on that very steep street that the Kirbys lived on, Joe failed to put on the emergency brake and as handshakes were being exchanged the car slipped out of gear. Rolling freely, it ran over the curb smashing into the Kirby’s phone line connection, effectively knocking out their service for a couple of days.
Work on HUNGER DOGS started in earnest, but Royer was unavailable to ink the balance and it was passed to D. Bruce Berry.
The book was finished on a very tight schedule because Jack and Roz were finally ready to travel to Israel, something both had wanted to do their entire lives.
In TJKC #10 (TwoMorrows 1998), Roz remembered the time: “When the kids were older, Jack and I went to Israel, before he passed on, about eight years ago. That was great, because he always wanted to go there, to see the Wall. He put a note in the Wall, so I said to him, ‘What did you write?’ And he says, ‘Thanks for the vacation.’ We were there for about three weeks. We went with our temple, with a group of about forty people. We had a great time, because they took us to the out-of-the-way places. We were up on the Gaza Strip and right on the borders. It was very, very exciting. Everybody should do it. I’m glad that, before he passed on, he got to go on that trip that he wanted.
“We went to Lucca, Italy and got that award in the 1970s. We were invited to quite a few places, but Jack never liked to fly. He dreaded to fly. Even when we went to Israel, I had to practically get him drunk to get him on the plane. He’d say he liked to put his feet on the ground. He hated being in a place where he didn’t have any control.”
Some forty years after his arrival at D.C., Julie Schwartz, was still drawing a weekly paycheck. Like Jack, he was one of the last of the dinosaurs.  He’d worked with almost every top talent who’d passed through the D.C. doors, with the exception of Jack Kirby. “I really don’t know why,” Schwartz remarked to me, “but I’ve never worked with Jack. I have an eight page CHALLENGERS inventory story by Alex Toth that I want Jack to do a story around. Ya wanna ink it?”
“Hells yes.”
Now, considering that Royer and Berry had locked-down Kirby’s inks for a decade, getting a foot in anywhere was near impossible. Worse, his output had dwindled to a trickle and this might be the last chance I’d ever get to ink one of Jack’s stories.
I instantly accepted and did my best familial best.
It was like backing-up Louis Armstrong on a record. Here I was, working with a man who’d codified the form and this was not missed on me.
Worried about a screw-up, elated at a confirming nod in my general direction. Apprentice seeking the approval of two masters.
Around the same time, THE HUNGER DOGS was in the offices and editor Andy Helfer was ready to wash his hands of the mess. When the comic book sized art was photostatted to accommodate the Graphic Novel sized paper, the rejected work was shot at the same size, rather than blowing them up so that the tops and bottoms of the art filled the page. In effect, Kirby was being asked to fill out much more of the art than he had to. Worse, the stats were a little dark and added slightly to Royer’s line weight. This clashed with the Berry pages, as his inking style was much lighter.
Helfer invited me to paint the cover and translating Kirby’s work into oil paint was a thrill to both Jack and myself. For me, working on anything Jack produced was a thrill but to Kirby it was a feeling of legitimacy. He’d never seen his art on canvas in oil paint: that was museum style. The piece ended up in the Kirby living room and was the only art in the house on an easel and that was the highest artistic compliment I ever received.
I was supposed to color the interiors as well and Andy passed a stack of pages into my hands. Looking it over, I must have made a face, because Andy remarked, “Yeah, right?”
“What are you going to do?”
“Nothing. It’s in your hands now. If you want to work on it, be my guest.”
An editor who lets you run wild is the editor you want to work for more.
Now, this was going to be the nicest packaging Kirby had ever gotten and the work produced wasn’t quite up to it. I packed the pages into my portfolio and returned to my studio.
For the next week, I did my best to align the conflicting styles and using my freedom to do as I pleased with the inks, attempted to polish many of the faces and figure work. For free. Literally.
I thought the results were good, but the work got mixed reactions from Comic fans. Royer was offended and I never heard Berry ring-in on it.
For all of the difficulties in producing the book, Jack was quite happy with it. Here was a book on good paper, with fully rendered coloring (another very late first,) and was something Kirby had been striving for since the 1950s. The industry was finally catching up to his visions.

Jack Magic V.2 Pt.6

Two Disasters

I’ve worked on over twenty-five Kirby books during the course of my career. Some I’m more pleased with than I am with others, but the biggest disaster was JACK KIRBY’S HEROES AND VILLAINS: BLACK MAGIC EDITION and inked version of the pencil sketchbook Pure Imagination had previously issued. Jack did 132 full-page illustrations of characters he’d worked on and offered the completed project to Roz as a Valentines Day gift. Until publication it was referred to as “The Black Book,” and a must-see when touring the Kirby residence.
When the Kirbys were alive, I was pleased to send them a check after every new book shipped, though I certainly wouldn’t call them hefty. Truth is, in the direct market there were only so many collectors interested in Kirby’s older work. Many of his fans who’d liked Jack’s stuff had fallen away from the newer market and if I got an order for 2,000 copies of anything it was remarkable. Checks amounted from about $500 to as much as $2,000 on a 25% split of the profits, with another 25% to Joe Simon. Fifty percent is unheard of in publishing, but I didn’t mind as my illustration career was picking up any financial slack.
In the spring of 1992, Roz asked me if there was anything that I could do to help generate some extra income. I’d considered doing an inked version of HEROES AND VILLAINS, so this seemed like a logical move.
The idea was that over one hundred inkers would do a page, from the famous to not so. I decided to do two of the illustrations in oil paint on canvas, because I was the boss of this job. Kirby in oil paint meant a great to him. Some kind of accomplishment. Legitimate.  And, I wondered why Jack’s art had never been painted in oils much before.
He was just another innocent on the planet, wondering why I was taking a lesser rate on this job than I could elsewhere. And, while Kirby could hardly appreciated it on a business level, he appreciated it artistically, every time I produced his works in oil paint.
Jack liked it when his work was presented in an innovative fashion.
I picked two good images to finish and set to work. While I was painting THE SENTRY on a 2.5’x3.5’ canvas something dawned on me and it made me smile throughout the rest of the job.
The book took an entire year to assemble, but by the summer of the following year it was almost done. As usual, Julie and I showed up at 2590 Sapra on our way to the San Diego Con and I unrolled the large painting, draping it over a door in the living room. Jack and Roz had never seen Kirby’s work painted so large and were quite pleased. After a moment I said “Roz, would you please give Jack and I a moment alone?”
She looked a little quizzical as I’d never asked that before, but moved towards the kitchen. I whispered in Jack’s ear, “You gave him a giant mechanical cock.”
Either she wasn’t far enough away, or I was too loud, but Roz laughed pretty hard.
“Gee, I guess I did,” was Kirby’s semi-amazed answer.
One year before, I was ready to begin JACK KIRBY’S HEROES AND VILLAINS: BLACK MAGIC EDITION. I’d done 11”x17” blow-ups of every page and once I hit the San Diego convention floor, I began to scan for known talent. Everybody was on board with the idea and everybody wanted to go through every page before they made their choice. It was amazing to see another artist “ohh” and “ahh” over page after page of Kirby drawings they’d never seen. That’s like asking a Jazz fan if he’d like to hear 132 unreleased cuts of prime Armstrong.
One well-known inker, who I knew would do a spectacular job, begged for twelve instead of the mandatory one, I crumbled. I knew he’d do a great job. He peeled-off the proper number and thanked me. In the end he didn’t do one of them and I had to scramble to fill twelve slots, pressing deadline looming.
Frank Miller grabbed SPIDER-MAN, which I thought was odd at the time as it was one of the weakest drawings in the book. Still, it was interesting to watch him hold and look at it. He went into one of those famous Kirby fugue states and I just knew he was mapping the whole thing out and the approach in his brain. The finished piece was an amazing combination of Kirby structure stripped to Miller minimalist.
Lot’s of other artists took the basic drawing and ran with it and Kirby had never looked so varied as under the control of so many creators. Totally unexpected results in the rendering and yet Kirby’s stamp was never canceled. That’s just Jack Kirby: the guy’s work is indestructible.
I’d pulled somebody aside at a vacant table and was showing-off Kirby, when a couple of inkers noted the art show and joined the party. Party favors included the only chance they would probably ever have to serve the King, in battle. Pretty soon, word filtered around the convention floor that Pure Imagination was looking for people to ink Kirby and hungry talent began to search crammed isles. There came a point where I just sat at a table on isle 68, halfway down, cooling my heels, at a table I hadn’t paid for, but was doing a lot of business on. A big thank you to whomever never showed up.
The famous and the unknown stopped by and I had to remember what Kirby told me, “I always gave a guy a chance.” And in that spirit, guys without examples of their work with them got assignments. A few did better jobs than names you’d know, if you are a Comics fan.
I got everybody’s contact info and instructed a deadline date. A week or two after the show, I got a big splash of inked drawings, followed by another shortly after, then a trickle, then a dry tap. Perhaps one-third of the artists were still outstanding, deadline approaching. Calls, promises, a splash, a trickle and then a dry tap. More calls to guys you knew you’d never hire again, with a dead-dog-deadline that had to be made, or the assignment would go to somebody else. A trickle and a dozen illustrations reassigned.
As I was trying to get guys to keep their promises, I was on top of the writers as well. Kirby historian, Richard Howell, myself and another Kirby historian were supposed to do brief descriptions of the characters and their first appearance. The list was divided by three and some of us set to work. I say some of us, because the unnamed writer continued to promise that his third would be done by deadline and not to worry, every time I called. At the eleventh-hour, he informed me that he had an emergency and that I was on my own. Not quite, as Richard and I were slammed for two days and I’m still six inked pages short, deadline breathing down my neck.
Keep in mind that I’d talked-up the book to Roz as a sure-fire hit. How could it miss? Every top artist in the business inking Kirby. The crossover audience would be colossal! I mean, a sure-fire hit? Right?
Not so much. The numbers were good, but far from great. After paying the printers and the talent that wanted to be paid, I still hadn’t broken even, though a hand full of reorders balanced the sheets to even.
The whole point of this thing was to raise some cash for Roz. A LOT of work with nothing to show for it. Well, about 130 new inkers got to work with the King of Comics and that’s certainly something.
Another backfired attempt to raise some cash for Roz, after Jack passed, occurred in conjunction with 21st Century Archives, a collectors’ card promoter, owned by a guy named Keith Ornstein. I’d met him at The Pure Imagination Fun Fair and had successfully produced three sets of Bettie Page cards for him. In the late spring of 1994, when I mentioned that I’d like to do Jack Kirby set, he was up for it. I selected the art, all in public domain, had some friends ink a few pencil images, colored most of and wrote the text for the backs of the cards. I told Kieth to send any fee I might have gotten to Roz and figured I’d done my job and she ended up getting many thousands of dollars. When the printed cards arrived, I was shocked to discover that Keith had ditched a number of my images and replaced them with scans from Ray Wyman’s THE ART OF JACK KIRBY book. Roz was upset, as she didn’t want those reproduced anywhere else and was mad at me for including those images. I explained that I’d been double-crossed, but she had a hard time of believing it.
I then called Keith and demanded to know why he’d pulled a fast one and how he justified the mistake. His answer was “I dunno: twenty-twenty hindsight, I guess,” was the most disinterested he could deliver. I told him he’d have to explain it to Roz.
When she called him he denied any involvement.
So, for a few months Roz just didn’t want to talk to me, until I tried again at the appointed time one Sunday night. Roz, in a much softer mood informed me that she forgave me. I didn’t think I’d done anything to be forgiven for. Still, I didn’t say a word other than, “Awww.”
While not a disaster, a sad story as well.
By the spring of 1989 Marvel had contracted with Simon and Kirby to reprint FIGHTING AMERICAN in a hardcover collection. I supplied the retouched art and colored the volume with S&K providing forewords. The plan was also to have Kirby pencil a new cover that Simon would ink, but when it arrived it was unusable. “Look at this,” Simon lamented, “I can’t ink this. I’d have to redraw it completely. Kirby’s lost it.”
While that may sound harsh, it was true. Fifty years had not taken its toll, his health had.