Jack would head for the sack as soon as birds chirped to him, or a little later, if he had a deadline. Or if he just couldn’t tear himself away from the board. Pockets with change in them hitting the floor. Jack trying to sneak into bed, undetected, Roz awake with an eye on the clock. And, as tired as he was, his last mission of the day was to sign off with a hug. She appreciated the gentle reminder to get up and take care of the first wave of kids. Before the gas was turned on for eggs, Kirby decided that his mission had been accomplished and allowed himself go to sleep.
B.T.W., if you fell in love with The Kirbys, you took the grandkids, too. Jeremy and Tracy were wonders to behold. She was about thirteen when I met her and very sharp for her age. Jeremy was still in short-pants, but as a father I knew kids and we never had a problem. I remember being out on the back deck with Grandpop and Jeremy and I spotted a lizard sunning himself on the lava rock in the back-yard fireplace. Jeremy moved closer and it scooted into a break in the masonry.
“He lives there. It’s cool for him.” I informed.
Glancing back, I could see Jack and Koiby was beaming. On the same trip, I took some studio shots of Jack with Jeremy in his arms, in Jack’s work chair. When I returned to New York, I broke out the photo-paper and the oil paints and began to transcribe the image in oil paints, with the addition of a GOOZELBOBBER doll in Jeremy’s arms, in Jack’s arms.
I sprayed it with a last coat of retouch varnish and shipped it off.
And, was shocked about four days later when I got a call from Casa Kurtzberg. It was Roz, as I’d never heard her, a tremble in her voice. The painting had arrived, she explained and the both of them were crying over the gesture. Well, the guy’s given me years of pictures that impressed my soul, so it was just a very small repayment on a huge loan.
Proud to say it was displayed in their living room until Roz’s death. Most every time I hit the Kirby house, I hit the living room, fast. A whole bunch of genius work that I don’t have a copy of. And Jack always wandered around with me, as his workload had diminished to the point where all he had to do was walk with you as you took in an art show in his living room. Interested in the fan reaction to the end.
While Jack was never really vocal about it, as men of his generation were, sometimes you got the impression that you were somehow important to him. Which is weird, because it was always the other way around.
On the other hand, Roz was a fine Yiddishe Momma who was very open about her affection. She’d give you a big apple-cheeked-so-much-that-eyes-squinted smile “Hi!” Jack’s face lifting slightly and a gruff, “Yea, hi!”
Embarrassed to report that I called Roz every Sunday evening, 10:00 P.M. my time, just after dinner there, for at least twelve years. My natural Mom would have been frosted if she’d known. About forty-five minutes into the conversation she’d put Jack on the line, if he wasn’t sleeping. And, these were moments when I shut off the mental recorder and simply enjoyed the human interaction. Then another half-hour with Roz.
I remember during a visit to Thousand Oaks around convention time, Roz came to me and said “Come with me, we need to talk.” And when Mom says that, you know you are in for it. We retreated to the sitting room just off the master bedroom. Roz sat down next to Jack and I sat facing them, plenty worried.
“How do you think of us?” Roz quizzed.
So that’s what this way about.
“Well, you’re like grandparents to me.”
They deflated and I knew my modesty had cost me points.
“I’d say that you were like my parents, but I didn’t think I had the right.”
Inflated and happy.
Roz remarked, “That’s the way we want you to think of us.”
And so, that was that, The Kirbys were my surrogate parents. Hell, I named my son after him and made them honorary God-parents.
But, that’s just the kind of people the Kirbys were: bend-over backwards kind. They never turned away fans from their door. If Charlie Manson had arrived, he would have been welcomed in and I’m sure he and Jack would have had a fascinating conversation while Roz called for take-out.
“Charlie, do you like Chinese Chicken Salad?”
Long-time Kirby fan, Pat Ford remembered a youthful contact with the King of Comics, “In June of 1975 after my Junior Year of high-school I was helping my friend Brian Hubbs paint house numbers on curbs in southern California. Brian was a couple of years older than me and did this as a full time business, as far as I know he still does. One day Brian informed me that we were doing Jack Kirby's neighborhood. Part of the house-numbers racket involved trying to collect a three-dollar donation: the license from the city mandates a donation, as there is no contract with each individual household. As we approached Jack’s house in the late afternoon a couple of kids on bikes came shooting up the sidewalk detouring through the Kirby's curved driveway. ‘Hey do you guys know who lives here?’ I shouted as they passed by. ‘Yeah, SUPERMAN’ returned one of the boys as he raced off down the sidewalk. ‘You've got that right,’ I thought as we approached the Kirby threshold. As Brian rang the doorbell I implored him not to ask the Kirby’s for the donation, as we really were there primarily to meet Jack. Roz answered the door and Brian immediately explained that we had painted the house number on the curb the previous day and were here to collect a three-dollar donation. Roz invited us inside, the front door opened up on a large space with the kitchen off to the right if I recall correctly and Jack was standing there as well. Brian introduced ourselves to Jack and Roz explaining that we had painted the house number the previous day and were also fans of his work. Jack immediately asked how much he owed us. Jack insisted on paying over my protest saying, ‘You guys did the job, you ought to get paid.’ Brian asked Jack if he would mind signing a stack of comic books he had in the car. Jack said, ‘Sure bring them in.’ While Brian went to his car to retrieve the comics I was standing there slack-jawed, Jack broke the silence by remarking, ‘I hope you're not disappointed, you were probably expecting a big guy like the HULK.’ Snapping out of it I remarked, ‘You are big, you bestride the world like a colossus.’ Brian returned with his stack of books which Jack signed, he then turned to me and asked if I had anything for him to sign, I told him that I hadn’t brought anything with me and Jack picked up a copy of WEIRD WAR TALES from a table adjacent to the front door which was laden with piles of new DC comics. That's how I ended up with a copy of WEIRD WAR TALES #5 signed: To Pat, best wishes Jack Kirby.”
The Kirby doors were always open and when a bus load of twenty people showed up Roz knew that baking cookies was out of the question and dialed McDonalds immediately.
In the JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR #10 z9twoMorrows, 199x), Roz commented, “I remember there was one family who was going cross-country in their Winnebago. They came up to the driveway: a mother, father and three kids. They said, ‘Is this Jack Kirby’s family?’ I said yes. She says, ‘We’re driving through and we just wanted to shake Jack’s hand.’ It was about ninety-degrees outside, it was July. So I said, “C’mon in a minute.” I gave them some cold drinks and there were young kids, ten or twelve years old. So, I said, ‘Would you kids like to go for a swim?’ They said, ‘Oh, great!’ So they all went swimming and I made them some sandwiches. So, when they’re ready to leave, the mother says, ‘I can’t believe this. You’re like regular people!’ I mean, we’re not in Hollywood here! So we always got along with everyone. When people would come, Jack would start telling them his war stories and I’d walk out of the room because I’d heard them a million times.”
Standing on his patio one night Jack claimed to have seen a U.F.O. “It was a big red ball in the distance, near the mountains. And it was no plane, because I know planes.” When I asked him about it at a convention panel interview he denied it. That’s about as close to cosmic as I ever got with Kirby.
More often it was something far more familial, like patting his pot-belly and musing, “The Kurtzberg Curse,” or telling me that when he was speaking Yiddish in sleep Roz knew he was having a nightmare and would wake him.
Jack always tried to act like he fitted in, but you could tell he never really believed it, unless you were too impressed while taking a credit card from Roz’s hand. Unless it was with family. For all of his fame, Jack always seemed to be somehow isolated from humanity. He only understood it with a semi-immigrant nose pressed against some windowpane. This “I don’t fit in” thing that nagged him his entire life.
A guy born out of time and place, yet somehow timeless and without borders.
Aug. 8, 1987 surprise 70th birthday party. Saturday at 10:00 PM Hotel San Diego. Signs leading to it read “The King Party.” Theakston, Howell, Thibodeaux, Wolfman, Scott Shaw!, Steve Rude, Len Wein and Evanier
LVH #1 (Mar. 1987), annual through #3.
#8 bc with Lassic, (July, 1989)
Plotted special #1 (May 1988)
On yet another visit to a N.Y.C. convention in 1990, a handful of fans convinced Jack to visit The Lower East Side again and Kirby finally came to some reserved terms with the thing that had haunted him since childhood. He was shocked and probably relieved to discover that his Tenement of Terror was now an open-air parking lot. Now it was sunny, clean and more civilized than he’d ever seen it. Not a speck of horse shit to be smelled, nor some guy who wanted to kick your ass. Just another city block instead of his personal Hellhole. Time had changed the place and it was good that it changed. And, on that trip, Jack finally came to terms with his personal Ghetto. And, if you knew Jack Kirby, forgiving the Ghetto was a big deal.
Don’t count on it so much with the Nazis.
Later that evening, my wife and I invited a number of friends to our new apartment as a hats-off to Jack and Roz. Eventually, I showed him my 16mm print of POP-EYE, in “CLEAN SHAVEN MAN.” And I commented, “If you look fast, every-other frame is pure Kirby, if he worked on this sequence.”
Jack chuckled at the cartoon and notion and remarked, “I couldn’t work there. It was too much like my father’s sweat-shop.”
My three-year-old son was awake and tearing through the apartment, easily weaving through a mass of grown-up knees. It started to get on my nerves and I snapped “Jack! Cut it out!”
Kirby turned around with a bewildered look and said “What? What’d I do?”
“Okay. From now on, when you are around, my son is Jackie,” though Kirby probably would have reacted the same way if I’d used that name.
Jack and Roz seemed happy with our now multi-room apartment, a step up over previous N.Y.C. one-room, one-window digs. I’d added a Dean Cornwell painting to my collection, displayed in the living room and Jack and I waxed poetic about it for a couple of minutes. Jack and I didn’t talk about art that much, which in retrospect seems odd. I knew that he trusted me with his work because he knew that I had a track record as an illustrator and wondered why the Hell would I wanted to do Comics.
“Work with Jack Kirby? I’ll do it for a fraction of what I usually get, because I can paint any time. How often are you invited to work with your world-class hero?” All he wondered was why I’d take a smaller rate if I didn’t have to.
So, Kirby and I are talking about art, in my living room and it occurred to me that this was a man who didn’t get to talk a lot about art and missed it. Not so much his passion for art, but just kickin’ it around with one of the other guys. I understand this “I can’t seem to talk with anybody about this stuff,” because, any time Kirby’s name comes up in casual conversation, somebody will pipe-up “You knew Jack Kirby?! I need to talk to you.” It was the same kind of vibe. Jack liked to communicate and in those days seemed hard-pressed to find someone who wanted to talk about art in general.
He missed Joe Simon and the crew and he even missed Stan, because it was an experience, for good or bad. He took retirement okay, but you just knew the guy wanted to bust into a story and couldn’t. The mind wants to, but the body can’t comply anymore. I suppose that kind of death must be accepted.
He was Mien Pop and what he couldn’t do anymore didn’t matter: he’d raised a big family and touched the world. Everyone who knew him recognized his decency and genius. They’d have loved him even if he’d never drawn a page of Comic Art. And though I am very biased, I know genuine when I see it.
In the spring of 1988 I was putting the finishing touches on THE JACK KIRBY TREASURY V. 2 (Eclipse, 1988) and Jack did a spectacular wrap-around cover featuring almost all of his characters from the 1950s, the period covered in the book. I inked my first piece of Kirby art on frosted acetate, too fearful of screwing up his pencils and having no way to undo it. The acetate allowed me to take an X-Acto knife and scratch and tweak it as best I could. The result was a book and cover I’m proud of, though they don’t always turn out that way.