GROTH: How did you feel about the Senate Subcommittee Hearings? Did you think that was a witch-hunt, or did you think there was any validity to the public’s concern?
KIRBY: I didn’t feel one way or another about it. I was only hoping that it would come out well enough to continue comics, that it wouldn’t damage comics in anyway, so I could continue working. I was a young man. I was still growing out of the East Side. The only real politics I knew was that if a guy liked Hitler, I’d beat the stuffing out of him and that would be it.
GROTH: Were you very political?
KIRBY: I wasn’t then. I was very concerned with comics. I’m political now. I knew this much — that everybody voted Democrat down my way. If you were poor, you voted Democrat and if you were rich you voted Republican.
GROTH: How did you feel about communism then?
KIRBY: Oh, communism! That was a burning issue. It was an outrageous issue. To be termed a communist would damage your whole family, damage your whole world — your friends wouldn’t talk to you. I’m talking about other people — because I wouldn’t go near the stuff. Sure, I was against the reds. I became a witch hunter. My enemies were the commies — I called them commies. In fact, Granny Goodness was a commie, Doubleheader was a commie.
GROTH: What was it about communism that you didn’t like?
KIRBY: Well, it was a radical concept to me. Like any other American, I wasn’t sophisticated enough to study all its facets. All I knew about it was it was foreign to democracy. And here I was, I had been fighting for democracy and always aware of two political parties and brought up in that kind of atmosphere. Anything radical was dangerous to me, as it was to the average American. Nobody knew where a thing like that would lead and we were always afraid of chaos. So communism became the doorway to chaos, and the doorway to chaos was the doorway to evil. Your family might be hurt. Your friends might be hurt. You didn’t want to see a thing like that.
GROTH: How did you feel about McCarthy?
KIRBY: I didn’t like McCarthy. I didn’t like his methods. I liked this other fellow — he was a gray-haired man from Maine I believe. He sat opposite McCarthy and challenged him. Walsh was his name.
GROTH: Was he the one who asked McCarthy if he had no shame?
KIRBY: Yes. He sounded more logical to me, more temperate. You didn’t feel like the stormtroopers were going to knock on your door the next day when you listened to this guy. When you listened to McCarthy, you knew they were going to drag you away, or your parents. McCarthy sounded like a threat, and if you didn’t fit certain specifications as an American —he laid down the specifications, he laid down the rules. That’s what put the fear into everybody, because all of us are afraid that we’re not going to fit certain rules. McCarthy put the fear of the devil into the entire public. When Walsh began to talk, he began to make sense. He talked not exactly like a statesman but a rational human being. McCarthy was a hunter. McCarthy didn’t care who he shot in the woods. But he was getting prestige. He wanted something, and he was going to get it any way he could even if he cut you down. Walsh wasn’t like that at all. Walsh was a man who discussed issues and who discussed McCarthy’s demeanor. Walsh was a guy who threw cold water on McCarthy and reminded him he was just a politician with just the ambitions of a politician, and he was never going to be a Hitler. It was reflected in the newspapers to me that the public was regaining its confidence because there was going to be chaos and that was a big fear.
GROTH: In 1954 you and Joe Simon started Mainline Comics.
GROTH: I think you did five titles then folded and sold the books to Charlton. Can you talk a little bit about that? How did that come about? That was at the height of the comic book hysteria.
ROZ KIRBY: Mainline had Headline comics and had Guilty.
GROTH: And Black Magic?
KIRBY: That was getting close to the horror books, but they were more potent. Black Magic was like The Twilight Zone and that was very successful.
GROTH: You also created Fighting American.
KIRBY: Yes. Fighting American was the first attempt at satire in comics. It was a satire — of Captain America. It was very, very funny. I still get calls on it today from people who pick it up on occasion, and it’s a genuine laugh.
GROTH: Did you enjoy doing that?
KIRBY: Yes, I did. I like a good time like anybody else. It was my try at satire. I feel that I’m an intelligent person; I can handle it correctly. And I did. I felt I knew satire, and that’s how it came out. That’s how I got Doubleheader. I got Uncle Samurai out of that, and I got a Hungarian called count Yuscha Liffso. It was a period when I really enjoyed doing the comics.
GROTH: I think Mainline comics lasted two years from ’54 to ’56.
KIRBY: Yes. Like I say, we were undercapitalized. Although we made money, we didn’t make enough money to…
GROTH: That period was especially bad for comics. So you and Joe must have broken up around ’56.
KIRBY: Around ‘56. In fact, the other companies were having trouble too. But they could sustain themselves. DC could sustain themselves because of their classic stuff. And Marvel could sustain itself.
GROTH: Then you collaborated with Wally Wood on a newspaper strip called Skymasters.
KIRBY: Skymasters was a daily.
ROZ KIRBY: Everyone makes this mistake. Wally Wood had nothing to do with the collaboration.
KIRBY: It wasn’t Wally Wood. I collaborated with two guys — the Wood brothers.
GROTH: Wally Wood had nothing to do with it?
KIRBY: He had nothing to do with it. The Wood brothers lived in New Jersey. I couldn’t reach the Wood brothers—they said send it to our mother and she’ll forward it to us. And that’s how we did business. Strangely enough the strip came out very well. But the Wood brothers kind of broke things up.
GROTH: How did you meet the Wood brothers?
KIRBY: We’d meet up at publishers offices, places where I would hold discussions. We had 300 papers.
ROZ KIRBY: The reason the strip didn’t last is because the Wood brothers kept disappearing.
KIRBY: I couldn’t reach the Wood brothers. I had to send them postcards. I had to keep in touch with their mother. These guys were eccentrics.
ROZ KIRBY: One got in trouble with the law.
GROTH: Did you really need the Wood brothers?
KIRBY: I needed the Wood brothers for the syndicate. That’s how we began at the syndicate. My trouble was that I would have to explain to the newspaper syndicate what happened to the Wood brothers. [Laughter.]
GROTH: Didn’t Wally Wood ink it?
KIRBY: Yeah, he inked a few weeks of them.
GROTH: Was Wally Wood related to the Wood brothers?
KIRBY: No. I began to think everyone was named Wood.
GROTH: In your entry in the Encyclopedia of Comics it refers to Dick, Dave, and Wally Wood, which gives the impression —
KIRBY: No. Dick and Dave were the Wood brothers. They were extremely eccentric so doing business with them was very rough. It was one of the reasons that the strip didn’t succeed. The strip was very, very good. It was accepted by 300 newspapers, which was a lot of papers. [Looking at a strip.] As you can see I did the moonwalk two years before NASA sent these guys to the moon. I did it in a serious vein. They wore white coveralls over them, but this is what they wore underneath. So I did it correctly. Of course, you can see Wally Wood’s influence.
GROTH: Who colored this? It’s really nice.
KIRBY: I did.
ROZ KIRBY: Jack likes to color. [Looking at another piece.] I inked that.
GROTH: You did?
KIRBY: Yeah. She inked it. She’s very good. Roz is one of the finer inkers in the field. [Laughter.]
GROTH: Did you enjoy working on a daily strip?
KIRBY: Yes, I did. I enjoyed working on any story. I’m essentially a storyteller. You name the subject, and I’ll give a good story on it. That’s why when I came back from the war I did some war stories for DC. And they did very well. The magazine sold.
GROTH: Did Skymasters have a Sunday page?
KIRBY: Yes, it did. We had 300 papers, but I had a hard time with the Wood brothers. And a heck of a lot of aggravation.
GROTH: How long did the strip run?
KIRBY: About two years.