Thursday, June 9, 2011

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

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