GROTH: You worked at this newspaper syndicate when you were 18; after that you worked as an assistant to Max Fleischer.
KIRBY: Yes. I was in the Fleischer studio.
GROTH: How did that come about?
KIRBY: I applied for it, and I was never really turned down for anything. I just did things as well as I could, and I was accepted. Then I went to work with the Fleischer brothers, and they did animation. It was an assembly line. In order to draw a figure taking a full step I would draw six pictures and then pass it along to some other fellow. Then he would make the other step. This long table — lots of people working at that table…It was a factory in a sense, like my father’s factory. They were manufacturing pictures.
GROTH: You didn’t like that?
KIRBY: I didn’t like that. I wanted to do my own.
GROTH: How long did you work at the Fleischer studios?
KIRBY: Not very long. I’m an individualist. I always felt that I wanted to do what I wanted to do.
GROTH: Which animated features did you work on?
KIRBY: I worked on Betty Boop and Popeye.
GROTH: You were an in-betweener. Can you tell me what an in-betweener did?
KIRBY: An in-betweener penciled in the action in between a full step. In other words the man before you would begin knowing the full step. It might take three or four pictures. The in-betweener would draw the in between steps. He would draw the segment of taking that step. Animation was done in this type of way. The right way. It still is the right way in many places. I work for animation houses [now] but in an individual sense. I would conceive a story, I would conceive characters, everybody else did the animation.
GROTH: You must have visited your father’s factory?
KIRBY: Never. But I did see other factories.
GROTH: What factory did your father work in?
KIRBY: It was a garment factory.
GROTH: It’s funny, my father is roughly your age and he grew up in New York, too.
KIRBY: I would admire your father because like myself he was the right guy for the right time.
GROTH: You both grew up in New York at the same time.
KIRBY: Yes, and we might have been drafted together. That was a horrible thing to be drafted because you began to meet people that you didn’t like. You found yourself in trucks with people from different parts of the country. Now remember, this was a time of very little communication. There were very few people who owned automobiles so nobody traveled back and forth across the country unless it was by railroad. Planes wouldn’t do it.
GROTH: You were drafted?
KIRBY: I was drafted.
GROTH: What year would that have been?
ROZ KIRBY: We were married in ’42.
KIRBY: Yeah, I was drafted in ’42.
ROZ KIRBY: I was married to you…
KIRBY: Yeah, I know you were married to me!
ROZ KIRBY: We were married in ’42, and you were drafted next year, ’43.
KIRBY: Middle of ’43. Yeah, because I took basic training down in Georgia at that time. After taking basic training I found myself on the bus going to Boston to a POE—port of embarkation. Who’s sitting next to me in the bus but Mort Weisinger of DC.
GROTH: Did you know him at the time?
KIRBY: I knew Mort very well. I knew everybody at DC.
GROTH: Now you were drafted when you were 26. Can you describe your comic book career prior to your being drafted?
KIRBY: I was doing very well. I was doing Captain America.
GROTH: You went from the Fleischer studio to where?
KIRBY: I went from Lincoln to Fleischer, from Fleischer I had to get out in a hurry because I couldn’t take that kind of thing. I began to see the first comic books appear. I can remember them hanging from the newsstands.
GROTH: I think you worked for Victor Fox. Would that have been the next place you worked?
KIRBY: Victor Fox was another syndicated house.
GROTH: What did you do for Victor Fox?
KIRBY: I did comic strips.
GROTH: You assisted on something called “Blue Beetle” I believe.
KIRBY: Yes, I did the “Blue Beetle” and a thing called “Socko the Seadog”. I had already met Joe Simon.
GROTH: And “Abdul Jones”.
KIRBY: Yes. I did a variety of strips for small syndicates.
GROTH: Can you explain how you got these jobs?
KIRBY: I just went up and applied for them and got them.
GROTH: Just knocked on doors?
GROTH: Did you work in their studio?
KIRBY: Yes. It would be like a loft really. They were large lofts, plenty of space.
GROTH: How many people would be working in one of these places? Would it be a whole row of artists?
KIRBY: Yes. Maybe five or six people, sometimes more. It depended on how big a company it was and who the artists were. They were beginning to discover comics just
like we were except they were exploring the business end of comics. Now the business end of comics is an entirely different type of thing.
GROTH: Was this a nine to five job?
GROTH: Were you paid per piece or per hour?
KIRBY: I was paid per week. A flat weekly rate.
GROTH: And you were expected to turn out an adequate number of pages?
KIRBY: Yes, they wanted a certain amount of pages so they could pass them to the next fellow.
GROTH: Did you pencil from a full a script?
KIRBY: I’d try to be innovative. I’d give them my version of it. They’d pass my version along to be completed. Somehow it always worked.
GROTH: Tell me if I’m wrong — the studio created these comics and then sold them as a package to publishers who requested them from the studio.
KIRBY: Yes. Sometime they’d have their own magazines like Jumbo, they’d publish them in association with others.
GROTH: When you were working for studios would you create things out of whole cloth or were you given specific assignments?
KIRBY: We created things out of whole cloth. I was creating things all the time. Joe [Simon] spent a lot of time with the Goodmans who owned…
GROTH: Actually, I meant when you were working in a studio.
KIRBY: Oh, before Joe I was improvising my own material all the time.
GROTH: The studios were owned by Victor Fox and Eisner and Iger — were these the people…
KIRBY: These were the business people.
GROTH: And these were the people you dealt with directly?
KIRBY: Yes. I dealt directly with them. They told me what they wanted done, gave me space in which to work.
GROTH: What was your attitude to comics like when you were working in the studios?
KIRBY: I felt the comics grew because they became the common man’s literature, the common man’s art, the common man’s publishing.
GROTH: What was working in a studio like?
KIRBY: Well, the Eisner-Iger studio — they were very energetic people, they were fine business people, making phone calls all over the place to people I’d never heard of. They were running a business. They wanted things done a certain way. Victor Fox was a character. He’d look up at the ceiling with a big cigar, this little fellow, very broad, going back and forth with his hands behind his back saying, “I’m the king of the comics! I’m the king of the comics!” and we would watch him, and of course we would smile because he was a genuine type. You’d see his type in a movie, and you’d recognize him.
GROTH: How old a man was he at that time?
KIRBY: At that time he would have been in his 40s.
GROTH: Do you know what he did before that, where he came from?
KIRBY: No, I don’t.
GROTH: He was supposed to be something of a crook. Did you ever have any bad experiences with Fox?
KIRBY: No. I don’t think Fox sharked any of the people who worked with me. We were small fish to Fox. He was a man with big ambitions. I think he moved to Canada, never heard from again. Maybe he wanted to become king of Canada and never made it.
GROTH: What was he like to work under as a boss?
KIRBY: He was very good to work for as a boss. Fox never bothered you. Fox liked production. We turned out the amount of pages he wanted, and he’d publish them. Like most of the fellows we got along fine. I couldn’t picture myself liking a guy like Fox, but I did. I genuinely liked Victor Fox.
GROTH: Did you ever see Fox socially?
KIRBY: No, I never saw Fox socially. You couldn’t, there was too big a gap. Fox would never mingle with a guy like me. Like I said. Fox was ambitious.
GROTH: What was working for Eisner and Iger like?
KIRBY: Eisner and Iger were energetic, efficient, and they weren’t out to be friendly, they were out to produce. Eventually, we all became personal friends. It was time for thorough professionals. Eisner and Iger wanted to expand like everybody else. They were in business — I was part of that business and I had to produce for them. So I did my best to produce.
GROTH: Did you deal directly with Iger or Eisner or both?
KIRBY: I dealt more with Eisner.
GROTH: How did you hook up with Joe Simon?
KIRBY: Going up to these offices we’d meet up, a lot of us also going to do business with these people. I had never met a guy like Joe. I had never met a guy from Syracuse, New York. I’d never met a guy who wasn’t a New Yorker. Joe looked like a politician. I said, “Gee, isn’t that wonderful?” Joe was an impressive guy. He still is. He got square deals for us, where in the past to get a square deal was an unknown quantity. Comics as a business became a real thing for all of us. I never knew anything about living with lawyers, but if you don’t live with a lawyer, you’re going to be on the bottom of the pile.
GROTH: Back then when you were working for the shops, and then you hooked up with Joe Simon did you and he create —
KIRBY: Yes we created jointly.
GROTH: Now. When you did this, you apparently weren’t aware of the financial ramifications — that people were going to make a lot of money on these things.
KIRBY: Oh, we were aware of it, but I didn’t know how to do business. I didn’t know where to begin to do business. I was a kid from the Lower East Side who’d never seen a lawyer, who’d never done business. I was from a family that like millions of others where doing business was concerned I was completely naive.
GROTH: Had you ever thought of going to the publishers and saying, we think this work is worth more than you’re paying us to produce it?
KIRBY: We didn’t know the value of it because Joe got the sales figures. I began to learn about sales figures. Comics were new and spreading very fast. I was just getting paid a page rate.
GROTH: Were you aware that the companies were making a lot of money on these, and you were just getting a page rate, just a fixed rate?
KIRBY: Yes. I accepted that fact because I was bringing in more money. Don’t get me wrong — the more money the books made, the more money I received, and I was feeling great. My purpose was what my father’s purpose was — to make a living and to have a family. I was going to do the right thing. My dream to me was to have money to support it and to live in the kind of house I liked.
GROTH: Did it dawn on you that the publishers you were working for were making a whole lot more money than you were off your work?
KIRBY: I didn’t care. I couldn’t conceive what they were doing in those offices. I couldn’t conceive of working with accountants. I couldn’t conceive of working with sales people. I couldn’t conceive of distribution. I couldn’t conceive of it because I couldn’t envision it. I’ve never run a business, I’ve never run a big business, and comics were growing fast. Superman had that kind of a business. They had every kind of accoutrement you could use for a big business.
GROTH: Did you resent the publishers?
KIRBY: No, I didn’t resent them. In fact, I got along well with them. When I wanted a little more money, they gave me a little more money.
ROZ KIRBY: They threw you bones.
KIRBY: Yeah, they threw me bones, and the publishers liked me.
GROTH: I bet.
KIRBY: I got along well with them.