GROTH: Can you explain how you developed the romance genre?
KIRBY: The romance genre was all around us. There was love story pulps, and there was love story sections in the newspapers. There was love stories in the movies. Wherever you went there was love stories! That’s how we got our new material, and it suddenly struck me that that’s what we haven’t done. We haven’t done any romance stories! There it was right in front of our eyes hanging from the newsstand. A love story! A romance story! So Joe and I sat down one night and came up with the title. Young Romance, and Young Romance sold out.
GROTH: Would Joe have gone to a publisher and say, We want to do a romance comic, will you pay us for it? Or would you actually do the comic and then show it to a publisher?
KIRBY: We did it both ways. We did it as it was feasible. We did it as the situation arose. We did it all the ways you mentioned. We’d go up together, sometimes just one of us. Sometimes in order to convince the publisher, I’d draw up the presentation page. I’d draw up three or four pages, and then the publisher would get the idea of the kind of thing we were trying to sell. Then we’d either go up together or Joe would say, “Finish up that page, I’ll go up and talk to them and you meet me there.” I’d meet him there with this finished page and we’d show them what we were trying to accomplish.
GROTH: At this point you were still being paid by the page.
KIRBY: Yeah, we had a page rate. Each comics house had a different page rate. There weren’t many. Marvel wasn’t even in existence — there was Timely, Atlas…
KIRBY: National was there. Jack Liebowitz was still the head of the organization. We talked to him. I knew Jack Liebowitz well, but as a young boy. Jack Liebowitz was a fine old man, and he treated me very, very well. If you were to talk to a young fellow you’d try to be fatherly and friendly and Jack was like that. I have very fond memories of talking to Mr. Liebowitz, as I called him. I’d show him the work that we’re doing and the
kind of thing that we’d been doing. Sometimes we’d go up together and sometimes we’d go up there singly. It was a matter of getting around the field. The field was static in a way at that time. There were very few other mags, maybe one or two. But the field was growing all the time.
GROTH: As you approached the ’50s I believe comics started concentrating on horror.
KIRBY: Yes, we did horror, we did Westerns.
GROTH: Did you ever do horror? I know you did romance…
KIRBY: I did a couple of monster stories.
GROTH: Wasn’t that in the late ’50s? In the late ’40s, I don’t think you ever did horror. You did Westerns and romance…
KIRBY: Yes. We did Westerns and romance and gangster stories.
GROTH: Do you remember why you didn’t get into horror? Was it that you didn’t have an affinity for horror?
KIRBY: No, I didn’t have an affinity for horror. But I knew that commercially it was viable. That’s why we both finally did it.
GROTH: You did monsters which isn’t really quite the same.
KIRBY: No, we didn’t do horror in the sense of haunted houses or people with masks the way you might see them today; something lurking in an anteroom. Our stories were more like peasants sitting around a fire. We had the “Strange World of Your Dreams”. Ours didn’t run to bloody horror. Ours ran to weirdness. We began to interpret dreams. Remember, Joe and I were wholesome characters. We weren’t guys that were bent on the weird and the bizarre. We were the kind of guys who wouldn’t offend our mother, who wouldn’t offend anyone in your family, and certainly not the reader. So we knew that we had to depart from adventure and that there were other ways to go and we came up with the “Strange World of Your Dreams”.
GROTH: [Holding comic]: Strange World of Your Dreams — this is published by Prize.
KIRBY: That was our own company.
GROTH: Can you explain how you started your own company — was it mostly Joe Simon? Do you know how early it started? These are as early as ’52.
KIRBY: I think it started with the romance stuff. It was mostly Joe because he was more knowledgeable about lawyers and copyrights and things like that.
GROTH: Where did you get the capital? Did you actually publish them?
KIRBY: Yes, we actually published them. The whole trouble was we were undercapitalized. We published for a little while, but we didn’t get many issues out.
GROTH: Did Joe handle all the business aspects such as distribution?
KIRBY: We both did, and that’s how I began to learn about it. But Joe would handle it a lot more adeptly than I did.
GROTH: Was this Joe’s idea to start the company?
KIRBY: Both of us decided if the other publishers could make money at it, why were we feeding them? And he was right. We had good stuff, and we were innovative, and why not do it for ourselves as well as for the publishers.
GROTH: How long did the company last?
KIRBY: Not too long. A couple of issues.
GROTH: I think you published five titles.
KIRBY: Something like that.
GROTH: Why do you think the company failed?
KIRBY: We were undercapitalized, and we just couldn’t continue. We ran into a lot of bad luck. Wertham gave all comics bad press so it cut your audience down. People were afraid to be seen with a comic less they be labeled as less intellectual than the next fellow who was reading deep books.
GROTH: In this comic Strange World of Your Dreams there’s a story that says “For dramatization analysis by Richard Temple.” Was there really a Richard Temple?
KIRBY: No, there was no Richard Temple. It was a pen name. We had to manufacture an entire company.
GROTH: You apparently hired some people like Mort Meskin, who I see is in here. Did you do the hiring?
KIRBY: We both did. We both did everything. I was in the office I think more than Joe. I did a lot of hiring and a lot of business with the other artists. Mort Meskin was a fine artist, and he helped the circulation of the magazine.
GROTH: Did you enjoy doing that? Because previously you had just been an artist and now you were…
KIRBY: Yes, I did. Life began to broaden a bit. I was growing, and I was learning how to do business.
GROTH: Do you happen to remember why you did a book called The Strange World of Your Dreams?
KIRBY: First of all nobody had that title. You got to remember that in the conventional world that we lived in, raw horror would never have been accepted. We might not have gotten on the newsstands. The newsstand was still selling magazines being put out by Dell, which was a fine company, but they were all conventional. We had to be within that circle just for prestige’s sake. They were all prestigious companies. So to gain that same prestige we printed stories within that same framework. Had we done straight horror at that time it would have been an adolescent move. Let me put it that way.
GROTH: I’m looking at a book called Justice Traps the Guilty, 1945, and it’s published by something called American Boys Comics, out of Buffalo, New York.
ROZ KIRBY: That was part of Joe’s corporation.
GROTH: But this was as early as 1945. Did you and Joe immediately start your publishing company when you got back from the war?
KIRBY: I believe so.
GROTH: Did you have an office at 1790 Broadway?
GROTH: Well, if that’s true it sounds like the company lasted for a while because Your Dreams was published in ’52 at the same address of 1790 Broadway. That’s seven years.
KIRBY: To me it might have seem like a very short time right now. That period to me is very nebulous. You got to remember I’m 71 now, and you’re talking about a young fellow that’s 23. That goes way back.
GROTH: It seems to me that you probably would have published more than five titles. But you don’t remember specifically how you went under?
KIRBY: Things just went bad. They just went bad. You come to a point where you say, we can’t lose any more. Let’s go back to making some money.
GROTH: Did you also publish Young Romance?
GROTH: I didn’t know you published it yourself.
KIRBY: Yes, we did.
GROTH: So you published romance, this weird un-categorizable genre of dreams, and you also published a crime comic.
KIRBY: Gangsters were a big thing then.
GROTH: Did you write a lot of these?
KIRBY: I wrote most of them.
GROTH: Now, Jack, did you write the story, “I Was a Come-On Girl for Broken Bones, Inc.”?
KIRBY: Yes, I did. [Laughter.]
GROTH: Since you worked for yourself you didn’t have to give the art to a publisher. Do you have any idea what happened to all the original art?
KIRBY: God, I don’t know.
ROZ KIRBY: We had a lot of the romance pages and Joe had some romance. And I gave pages back to someone to return back to the authors.
GROTH: I understand you actually originated a book called My Date.
KIRBY: Yes. My Date was the open door to the romance books. It was then that it hit us. After we published My Date it suddenly occurred to me that we were missing the big thing. Romance was making all the money. My Date was more of a teenage book — young people dating girls, dropping girls, gaining girls.
GROTH: You did that for Hillman.
GROTH: Who was Hillman?
KIRBY: Hillman was another publishing outfit, and if I remember correctly we did quite a few things for them.
ROZ KIRBY: Something about an alligator?
KIRBY: Something the alligator, about a real alligator. It was a funny alligator. I forget what the heck his name was. It was a satirical cartoon about Charlie Chaplin as an alligator.
GROTH: You did that for Hillman?
KIRBY: I think that was for Hillman.
GROTH: What was Crestwood Publishing?
ROZ KIRBY: Crestwood was a publishing house that Joe and I worked for. Remember comics were beginning to make a lot of money, and there were new publishing houses being born, and a lot of them faded away like Victor Fox.
GROTH: Were there better or worse companies to work for or were they all pretty much the same?
KIRBY: The idea was to make as much money as you could, and we tried to work for the companies that were paying the most. Of course, Joe and I felt that the way to make the most money was to put out your own books, and we tried that but we didn’t have the capital to sustain them, although we had very good titles and very good stories, but you still had to pay the piper — distributors and what not.
GROTH: I understand you started your own company called Mainline Comics in 1954?
KIRBY: Yes, we did.
GROTH: But you had already started another company prior to that — was that American Boys’ Comics? [Looking at comic.]
KIRBY: Yeah, I did that with Joe.
GROTH: This says “Simon and Kirby, editors and artists’’ and the address is 1790 Broadway. But the cover says Prize Publications —
ROZ KIRBY: A lot of them used different names.
KIRBY: Yeah, that was another company. Most of them faded. They also had tax problems, things like that. They would break their companies in to four or five segments.
GROTH: How did the public backlash against comics in the early ’50s affect you?
KIRBY: It didn’t affect me at all. I was a poor boy making money.
GROTH: What were your feelings about that at the time?
KIRBY: I ignored them. I knew the stuff I was doing was done well and that I could write as well as any other guy. And I did. I knew that Joe was a good businessman.
I was fairly good in business. I was growing up with Joe. Remember Joe was older and Joe knew a lot more tricks than I did. So I began to learn the tricks of the business.
GROTH: Were you worried that the comic book industry might collapse because of all this? Was that a concern?
KIRBY: Yes, it was a concern. In fact, it was a concern to all the publishers. Remember that comic books didn’t enjoy the same prestige as, say, Collier’s magazine or the Saturday Evening Post. In the ’50s if you went to a newsstand and bought a Saturday Evening Post they’d say, “There goes a good American.” If you bought a comic book — “That guy, he shoots pool.” Of course, Dr. Wertham didn’t help any. We got very bad press. Comic books weren’t considered, well, it’s like trash TV is today. Trash TV will probably reach a point where it’s very acceptable.
ROZ KIRBY: That’s when you went over to Classic Comics.
KIRBY: Yeah. Joe and I split up. I did Classic Comics, and they didn’t like the way I folded Cleopatra’s skin. It was run by perfectionists, and I was not the guy to work for perfectionists, so I left soon after. I couldn’t be that fussy or that perfect with my figures or my costumes. I felt that the story was very, very important, and all of it had to mesh to make any sales.