Sunday, June 5, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 45

Jack Kirby's Heroes & Villains.
GREG: Well, what a fabulous sketchbook. For years people were after Roz to let the book be printed. She said, "You're the only person I would trust to take this book and return it to me safely." It was this huge honor to be entrusted with "The Book" so that it could be reprinted. I shot all the negatives myself, and retouched them all myself. Because Kirby was less interested in a pristine drawing than a good one, frequently, the right-hand side of his drawings were smudged; He was never shy about pressing hard on the lead or touching the paper with the side of his hand. The challenge was to drop out the gray of the graphite that had rubbed off, yet maintain the very fine linework. So, frequently I had to shoot it heavier to keep the fine linework, and retouch it. I shot some of those pages eight to ten times to get the right balance. I spent a week in the darkroom nursing the negatives in the developing tray until I had the best shot that could be had. This was a time before computers and scanners, and PhotoShop techniques; it took a week to retouch 130 negatives by hand.
       When it came time to print the book, I mixed a combination of high grade black ink with a metallic ink until I achieved the exact shade of a #2 pencil lead. The printed images shine the way a pencilled piece does. I really went all-out on that project.
I printed 1000 copies, and bound one-third. Those were signed and numbered, but hey do not have the decorative end papers. The binder sent the box of endpapers back with the bound books, saying, "What is this for?"  I've had rotten luck with printers and book binders. They tend not to be very bright.
       So I put the 666 unbound volumes in my storage room, and told my father to call the recycling place to come get the scrap that was sitting out in the front of the print shop. And when I went to have the other 666 sent for binding three or four months later it was gone, my father said, "The paper guy took all that stuff. I guess he took your book too."
 I ultimately reprinted the missing 333 volumes as a second printing, with a continuation of the numbering. That was the edition with the endpapers; those were also signed and numbered. It was a terrifically fun book to do, and Steranko's intro was a sweet tribute to our hero. It's a book I'm proud of.

TJKC: How about the inked "Black Magic" edition?
GREG: As big a let-down as the pencilled volume was a thrill. I thought at the time it couldn't lose; get every popular inker in the business to ink over Kirby. He's pretty indestructible; nobody could do that much damage to his work. I took a full set of pencil Xeroxes to the San Diego con and passed them out to potential inkers. of the 100 pages I distributed, some 15 or 20 guys took their jobs, and I never heard from them again. Right down to the week before it went to press, I was hounding artists for their assignments. I'm not saying this to scold people, just to point out the difficulties I've had producing products like this, and why some of them seem to fall short. A friend of the Kirby’s said, "Don't worry, I'll write the introductions to all these characters." He procrastinated and weeks turned into months, all the while he was insisting that he could turn the job around in a couple of days, so hold tight. Three or four days before the book was to got to the printers, he said, "I'm sorry, there's a crisis here. I simply can't do it." So Richard Howell I wound up doing the intros.
       When I got my proof copy back from the printer, I provided corrected copy to replace the errors on several pages. Tim and Greg Hildebrandt's name was misspelled. Tim Bradstreet's was my biggest regret; he didn't sign his work, and I simply couldn't remember his name. I put it down as 'Blackwell.' When the book came out, those corrections were not made; the book is full of errors they simply didn't correct for me. We were going to do a hardbound edition with all the inkers signing. I sent the signature plates to two or three guys, to sign and one of the inkers still has 500 plates half-signed, and the book is dead in the water because this joker won't send them back. And I don't know who it is, because I didn't give them to him, one of the other inkers passed them along. So whoever's got the damn plates, send them back!      
I offered a rate of $75. A couple of big name artists came up to me later at a convention and said, "You never paid me for my work." Everybody who billed me got paid. A large number of people said they'd do it for nothing, but some people said they'd take the $75 rate. So anybody that sent a bill got paid, and anybody that didn't I assumed didn't want to be paid. If any of the inkers on this book think I stiffed them I must say in my defense, as with any professional, you must bill for a job before you can get paid.
       Kirby died before Heroes and Villains came out. As it was, he saw large numbers of the drawings, and he was truly flattered and amazed that so many diverse styles were being used on his work and looking so good. I suppose I could've only used the top professionals, and give two or three pieces to each, but it made more sense to me to give 132 or so people – who might not ever get a chance to work on Kirby – a once-in-a-lifetime shot. I can't say I'm satisfied with everybody's renditions; in a better world I might've sent some back and said, "Try again." But as it was, Jack was pretty pleased, and I think there were some remarkable combinations in there.

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