GROTH: When you made the decision to go to DC, and I assume you called up Marvel and told them that you were leaving and that you weren’t going to do any more work for them; what was the reaction at Marvel?
KIRBY: First of all, Marvel already had very popular strips going, and they didn’t throw any ropes around me to hold me. It was my decision. They knew I was going to make it anyway, and so I went over to DC to do it.
GROTH: So Marvel didn’t attempt to win you back?
KIRBY: No, they didn’t attempt to win me back.
ROZ KIRBY: They didn’t care because they had all these artists waiting in the wings who drew like Jack Kirby. Kirby imitators.
GROTH: How do you feel about the people who don’t merely draw the characters you created, but duplicate your whole style or copy from you directly?
KIRBY: I think they’re betraying themselves. I don’t think they’ll make an impression that way. First of all, they destroy themselves. They destroy their own image. What they do is perpetuate my image. Their storytelling is not going to improve sales, so how could copying my work help them in any way? There can’t be two Jack Kirbys and there can’t be two Carmine Infantinos and there can’t be two Stan Lees.
GROTH: Thank God.
KIRBY: We’re all individuals.
ROZ KIRBY: Actually, we received a copy of a strip from a young fan and copies of Thor — of one of Jack’s old Thors— and then of the new Thor. You lift up the page and they’re actually traced.
KIRBY: Yes. They’re doing that now. They’re tracing my figures and using them in panels, but even if they trace my figures, it only comes out awkward in the panel itself in conjunction with the background and the type of story that it is. I can tell you my figures are well-drawn, and they’re very saleable, but doing it in maybe one or two panels is not going to sell that story, and that’s amateur thinking, and if Rembrandt were doing comic books and I took one picture of Rembrandt’s and put it in a comic book story, it would make the entire story look awkward. The reader would be mystified. He’d lose track of his story and would begin to wonder why this figure was so different from the rest of them. If you distract the reader, you cannot tell the story. You can’t put anything into that story that doesn’t belong there. The artist’s style has to be true to his own imagination, and he has to have his own way of telling the story, and the reader associates all that, and it makes it easier for the reader to absorb. If you put any distraction— you can do it in a movie, you can do it in the theater — if there is any distraction that halts the story or makes it look awkward, it’s like an actor faltering on stage. He’s got to get up as quickly as he can and continue the action without trying to break up the movement of the script. That’s what happens to an inker or a penciller. To imitate somebody else is to inject something into the story that will distract the reader. Once you distract the reader, the story has no point.
GROTH: You were doing The New Gods material for DC. What led you to leave DC?
KIRBY: Like I say...
ROZ KIRBY: Carmine Infantino? [Laughter.]
KIRBY: Like I say, there are people in editorial positions that shouldn’t be there. This seemed to be a period where Marvel and DC were relying on the wrong people in the right positions. These were the people who were wrong for these positions.
ROZ KIRBY: Then, Marvel finally said, well, they offered him even more money than DC, and they let you have the freedom to do the same kind of book that you were doing for DC for Marvel. That’s when you did The Eternals, Space Odyssey and...
KIRBY: Yeah. I did some fine work for Marvel.
ROZ KIRBY: It was still the matter of...
KIRBY: I did my own stories.
ROZ KIRBY: It was all a matter of income, of making more money.
GROTH: Did your relationship with DC deteriorate over the course of your stint there?
KIRBY: Yeah, there was always an editor who would operate in the wrong fashion, but with artists, it was making money for the book, and he was the publisher’s choice. There were some editors who were still affectatious. If a guy is affectatious, he’s going to interfere with your work, and he’s going to want to say that you did the work, but he did the creation. In other words, he influenced the entire —
GROTH: Frankly, I thought your last stint at Marvel was a little half-hearted, The Eternals and Space Odyssey and so forth.
ROZ KIRBY: Yeah, because it was an afterthought. After he did The New Gods, what more could he do?
GROTH: Anti-climactic, right.
ROZ KIRBY: An anticlimax.
GROTH: Did you ever sense that it was a little...?
KIRBY: Well, no, I... You can go on with it if you like, or you can change it to something else if you like, but there comes a point when you’ve had a belly-full of the industry itself. I mean, you just throw up and say, “What the Hell!?” I mean, what am I, a man or a thing? I can’t live with this thing, and I couldn’t. What I told them in effect was, “Screw you! I’ll get mine somewhere else.” And I did. I moved from New York. I was away from the office, and the influence of the industry itself. I would sit in my own house and that was my world.
GROTH: Let me ask you this: in the ’70s when you were working for DC and you went back to Marvel, do you think you were more aware of your subservient position to publishers then you were perhaps previously?
KIRBY: Yes, and like I said, I’d had a belly-full of being subservient. I had to find something else to do, and I did. I went to the animation houses [in Hollywood]. I went to new fields. I did what I should have done in the first place. Joe Simon went back to commercial art, and he found his place in life.
ROZ KIRBY: He always wanted to go to Hollywood.
KIRBY: I wanted to go to Hollywood, and I finally did.
GROTH: You’re also a born cartoonist.
KIRBY: I’m a guy who had to perform some way. I had to perform in some way. If not as an actor, I’d perform as an artist. It would have been something that would be outstanding in its own way.
GROTH: Can I ask you who you were dealing with at Marvel when you went back in the ’70s? Did you have an editor that you were dealing with? I ‘m not sure if Stan was very involved —
ROZ KIRBY: Jack just wrote, and he had his own books. He didn’t have an editor.
ROZ KIRBY: Mike Rover did all the inking here. We sent them a complete package.
KIRBY: Yeah. We sent them a complete package.
GROTH: Can you tell me haw your affiliation with Pacific came about?
KIRBY: Well, it came about normally. I began meeting people at conventions. I met the people from Pacific.
ROZ KIRBY: The Schanes brothers.
KIRBY: Yeah, the Schanes brothers.
ROZ KIRBY: They asked Jack if he wanted to do books for them. This was at a time when Jack never got any royalties, and they said he’d have complete control and he would get his royalties.
KIRBY: On Captain Victory I got royalties.
ROZ KIRBY: And they said, do you have another book for us? So. Jack said. what should I do? He had a 50 page synopsis for a TV show or a movie. So I said why don’t you just take this in and break it down into the comic book. So actually Silver Star was the storyboard for a movie.
GROTH: I see. Now how did that relationship work out?
ROZ KIRBY: We had to call every minute [and ask] “Where’s the money? Where’s the check?” “It’s in the mail.” [Laughter.]
KIRBY: She remembers a lot more than I do.
ROZ KIRBY: But, they usually finally got it to us.
KIRBY: Yeah, they finally got it to us, but...
ROZ KIRBY: We’re still friends.
GROTH: Did you find that to be a pretty good…
KIRBY: It was a frustrating relationship because of that kind of thing.
ROZ KIRBY: We had to get on the phone constantly.
KIRBY: In other words, it’s a question of reminding people. I didn’t like to be in that position.
ROZ KIRBY: It was embarrassing for me because I had to handle the whole thing.
KIRBY: And she still does today.
GROTH: Would you consider that to be better than your business relationship with Marvel and DC and how you were treated?
KIRBY: There were no personalities involved. They treated me like a human being. I treated them like human beings. On a personal level, there was no problem. On a financial level, it was a problem of regularity.
ROZ KIRBY: Jenette Kahn has always been very kind to us and when [DC was] approached to do some toys they wanted to do some New Gods figures, and she came in one day — she was at the Beverly Hills Hotel — and we had a meeting with her, and she said, “Look, we know what Marvel always did to you. You were always getting screwed all your life, and we want to be fair. We feel that you created this, and that you should get something out of it.” They were very nice about it. We had nice meetings and they were very fair about it.
KIRBY: And they still are. Jenette Kahn is a fine person. On occasion we’ll get to New York, and I’ll see Jenette Kahn, and we’ll have a wonderful time. So I think the comic field has gained in that respect.
ROZ KIRBY: At least she had heart, let’s put it that way.
KIRBY: With that kind of management, a deal could be made on a humane level.
ROZ KIRBY: We were very close to Julie Schwartz. We love him. He drives us nuts, but we love him. [Laughter.]
KIRBY: I always had good relations with Julie Schwartz, Murray Boltinoff, Joe Orlando.
GROTH: Let me ask you this: Looking over you life’s work, are you pleased with what you’ve done? Are you satisfied?
KIRBY: I know I’ve done quite a bit. I know that in my hunger for making a living, I might have created a few monsters. Maybe that’s natural. I don’t know. But I can tell you that Marvel was my making, and I can tell you that DC never lost anything from any of my work.
GROTH: Creatively, how do you feel about your career?
KIRBY: Creatively, I’ve done well. Creatively, I’ve never done anything—
ROZ KIRBY: You were ashamed of.
KIRBY: Not being ashamed of, but I’ve never done anything bad. I can’t do anything bad. It’s got to be professional. It’s got to look professional. It’s got to read professional. In other words, it serves its purpose by entertaining a reader, see? If a carpenter makes a chair that’s comfortable for the person who’s going to sit in it, he’s done his job. If a train engineer gets a train in on time, he’s going to make someone happy who’s waiting at the station. And if an artist draws the kind of a picture that people are going to enjoy looking at, or he makes a visual story which people are going to enjoy reading, he’s done his job. I can say that I’ve done my job extremely well. My only beef is that a lot of people have put their fingers in whatever I’ve done and tried to screw it up, and I’ve always resented that. I always resent anybody interfering with anybody else trying to do his job. Everybody has his own job to do. If he’s good, he’ll do well, but if he’s mediocre, he’s not going to do as well as he should. I believe that I’m in a thorough, professional class who’ll give you the best you can get. You won’t get any better than the stuff that I can do. In the Army, during the war — which my wife won’t talk about — [Laughter.] I didn’t know whether I’d make it or not, but I can tell you that I did my very level best, OK? And that, scared or not, I did my job, and I would do my job wherever I am. If I had to, say, give up my life for my family, I wouldn’t hesitate a minute, and if I had to do anything for a good friend, I wouldn’t hesitate a minute. I wouldn’t ask any questions at all. I’m that kind of a guy. I’m a guy who’ll do it. If you ask him to do it, and he wants to do it, you’ll get it full measure. I’ve never done anything half-heartedly. It’s the reason my comics did well. It’s the reason my comics were drawn well. I can’t do anything bad. I won’t do anything bad, and I resent very deeply bad people who haven’t got the ability, who try to interfere with the kind of work I’m trying to do because nobody’s going to benefit from it. If you’re a thorough professional, and they won’t let you do a professional job, nobody’s going to benefit from it. The people who produce it won’t benefit. The people who buy it won’t benefit from it. They’re going to get a half-assed product, and I believe that’s what the editorial people in comics at that time bought. They bought a half-assed product, or they created a half-assed product, and that’s what they got in return, they got half-assed returns,
ROZ KIRBY: Have you been satisfied with what you’ve done?
KIRBY: Have I been satisfied with what I’ve done?
KIRBY: If I’ve done it myself, I’ve always been satisfied. If somebody interfered, it always created a bad period in my life.
GROTH: What was the most creatively rewarding period in your career?
KIRBY: I believe when I was given full rein on The New Gods. I was given full rein on The New Gods, and I was given full rein on Mr. Miracle. Mr. Miracle was a fine strip. I was given full rein on many other strips, which sold extremely well and made me very happy. I was happy doing them because as a professional, you’ve got to take the credit for it, or you’ve got to take the, beating for it. I don’t like to take a beating without being responsible.
GROTH: You don’t want to take somebody else’s beating.
KIRBY: I don’t want to take somebody else’s beating. That makes me unhappy. So right now, I can tell you, I’m a happy man because whatever I’m doing, I do for myself and I do a little creating here and there for others, and they work out very well. I feel like an independent man, and I am. This is the kind of feeling I always wanted. You can rarely get that... Well, I could rarely get that in the early part of my life.
GROTH: I think most people can rarely get that. You have to fight for it.