From the TCJ Archives

Jack Kirby Interview

GROTH: How did you feel during the ’60s when Stan became a personality in the books and sort of became the official spokesman and figurehead for Marvel Comics?

KIRBY: Well, Stan became a personality through his relationship with the owner.

ROZ KIRBY: Can I say something? It bothered me a lot when it said Stan Lee this and Stan Lee that. If they wanted to be fair, they could have said, “Produced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.” But he didn’t have to say, “Written by —.” He didn’t have to take the entire credit. He’d put down drawn by Jack "King" Kirby and all that stuff.

KIRBY: Yes, and he’d be very flippant.

ROZ KIRBY: Jack took it with a grain of salt, but I was the one who was very hurt by it all.

GROTH: I see. Did you ever talk to Stan about the application of credit?

KIRBY: You can’t talk to Stan about anything.

ROZ KIRBY: Every so often he’d put down, “Produced by —”

KIRBY: Yeah, sometimes he did. Stan was a very rigid type. At least, he is to me. That’s how I sized him up. He’s a very rigid type, and he gets what he wants when the advantage is his. He’s the kind of a guy who will play the advantages. When the advantage isn’t his at all, he’ll lose. He’ll lose with any creative guy. And I could never see Stan Lee as being creative. The only thing he ever knew was he’d say this word “Excelsior!”

GROTH: Well, what I wanted to ask you was, what did you think of Stan creating this public personality where everything was stamped with “Stan Lee Presents”? He manufactured himself as a kind of grand figure.

ROZ KIRBY: That’s what he wants.

KIRBY: I think Stan has a God complex. Right now, he’s the father of the Marvel Universe. He’s a guy with a God complex.

GROTH: Did you sort of see it coming in the ’60s when Stan was putting his name all over the place? Did you see this kind of— ?

KIRBY: Well, you don’t have to see a thing like that coming. It was happening, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Stan Lee was the editor, and Stan had a lot of influence at Marvel, and there was nothing you could do about it. Who are you going to talk to about it, see?

GROTH: Was Stan your basic contact with Marvel? He was the one that you — ?

KIRBY: Yes. I’d come in, and I’d give Stan the work, and I’d go home, and I wrote the story at home. I drew the story at home. I even lettered in the words in the balloons in pencil.

ROZ KIRBY: Well, you’d put them in the margins.

KIRBY: Sometimes I put them in the margins. Sometimes I put ’em in the balloons, but I wrote the entire story. I balanced the story...

GROTH: How long were your discussions with Stan Lee when you were discussing the next Thor or the next Avengers or the next Fantastic Four? How long would you talk to Stan about it?

KIRBY: Not much. I didn’t particularly care to talk to Stan, and I just gave him possibly some idea of what the next story would be like, and then I went home. I told him very little, and I went home, and I conceived and put down the entire story on paper.

GROTH: How do you feel when he talks about what a great guy you are, what a terrific co-worker you were, which he does frequently when asked about the good ol’ days?

KIRBY: Why wouldn’t he say that?

ROZ KIRBY: Yeah. Look what Jack did for Marvel.

KIRBY: Why wouldn’t he say that? If I hadn’t saved Marvel and if I hadn’t come up with those features, he would have nothing to work on. He wouldn’t be working right now. I don’t know what he’d be doing now. He wouldn’t be in any editorial position.

GROTH: Do you think he believes that, or is that a public relations facade?

KIRBY: What’s that?

GROTH: Oh, that he thinks you’re a great guy, and he loved working with you.

KIRBY: I say it’s a facade, and what he really means is he loved taking me. I just hope that you don’t find yourselves in a position where you have to deal with that kind of a personality.

ROZ KIRBY: I’d like to say something if I could. Jack created many characters before he even met Stan. He created almost all the characters when he was associated with Stan, and after he left Stan, he created many, many more characters. What has Stan created before he met Jack, and what has he created after Jack left?

KIRBY: And my wife was present when I created these damn characters. The only reason I would have any bad feelings against Stan is because my own wife had to suffer through that with me. It takes a guy like Stan, without feeling, to realize a thing like that. If he hurts a guy, he also hurts his family. His wife is going ask questions. His children are going to ask questions.

GROTH: Were you very — active isn’t the right word — but you were on top of things during that period? Did you know what was going on?

ROZ KIRBY: Of course. Jack was right down there working in what we called the dungeon. We had the basement then, a studio down there in the dungeon. Whenever anybody called, or Jack came to the office, I was usually there. It hurts to this day when my grandson sees Stan Lee’s name and he knows what his grandfather did, and he asks, “Why is Stan Lee’s name all over?” That’s hard to explain, you know.

KIRBY: Yeah. So why shouldn’t I be hurt? Why shouldn’t my family be hurt? I know my wife is sore at me—

ROZ KIRBY: No, I’m not sore.

KIRBY: —because I say these things, but I’m deeply hurt because it hurt my family. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m not going to be believed at Marvel. I’m no going to be believed anywhere else unless… Actually, my own fears probably prodded me into an act of cowardice. It’s an act of cowardice. I should have told Stan to go to hell and found some other way to make a living, but I couldn’t do it. I had my family. I had an apartment. I just couldn’t give all that up.

GROTH: Because you didn’t have alternatives?

KIRBY: I didn’t have alternatives, and DC wasn’t that big an alternative. In fact, I began to do as much work at DC as I could.

GROTH: At the risk of sounding partisan, let me ask you this: every time I read something by Stan or see Stan speak publicly, I’m struck by how obvious a bullshit artist he is. Was he always that way?

ROZ KIRBY: Yeah.

KIRBY: Yes. Yes, I knew Stan when he was a young boy.

ROZ KIRBY: He was Mr. Personality. That’s what he was.

KIRBY: If you ever get to talk with Joe Simon, Simon will tell you exactly what the hell Stan Lee was. He was just a little wise guy, and he came from a family that was upper-middle class, and he could do whatever he liked. He could say whatever he liked. I’ll be frank with you. We considered him a pain in the ass. He grew up to be exactly what we considered him. The only thing that ever bothered me about this thing was not the fact that I couldn’t make a living, because I did. I finally found a way to make a living. In fact, I went to California. I was the first artist in New York—

ROZ KIRBY: No, that comes later. He didn’t ask you about that.

KIRBY: I’m the first artist in New York — wait a minute! —  I’m the first artist in New York to go to California, and I went to California because I just about had it with the field. I had it with the field. I had to feel like a man again.

GROTH: What year did you come out here?

KIRBY: Let’s see. I believe that was in ’67. In fact, Carmine Infantino was then editor of DC, and then Mort Weisinger came to visit us. It was wonderful to see somebody from the East.

GROTH: Actually, there was at least one other character I wanted to talk about, which was Thor. Your run on Thor was also an incredibly imaginative period, which lasted quite a few issues.

KIRBY: Yes. I loved Thor because I loved legends. I’ve always loved legends. Stan Lee was the type of guy who would never know about Balder and who would never know about the rest of the characters. I had to build up that legend of Thor in the comics.

"On the Trail of Tomorrow Man!" in Journey Into Mystery #86 (November 1962 ) plot by Lee, script by Larry Lieber; Kirby inked by Dick Ayers ©Marvel Comics, Inc.

GROTH: The whole Asgardian...

KIRBY: Yes. The whole Asgardian company, see? I built up Loki. I simply read Loki was the classic villain and, of course, all the rest of them. I even threw in the Three Musketeers. I drew them from Shakespearean figures. I combined Shakespearean figures with the Three Musketeers and came up with these three friends who supplemented Thor and his company, and this is the way I kept these strips going by creative little steps like that.

GROTH: Some of the Asgardian landscapes, it seems like you must have taken great joy in...

KIRBY: I did. I took a great joy with inventing new kinds of mechanisms. I invented new kinds of machines. I’ve been a student of science fiction for a long, long time, and I can tell you that I’m very well-versed in science fact and science fiction. I’m 71 years old, and so I’ve seen all this new conception. I used to read the first science fiction books, and I began to learn about the universe myself and take it seriously. I know the names of the stars. I know how near or far the heavenly bodies are from our own planet. I know our own place in the universe. I can feel the vastness of it inside myself. I began to realize with each passing fact what a wonderful and awesome place the universe is, and that helped me in comics because I was looking for the awesome. I found it in Thor. I found it in Galactus.

GROTH: Let me ask you something that’s been on my mind for many years, and that is, I thought Vince Colletta did not do your pencils justice.

KIRBY: Yes.

GROTH: In fact, he was one of the weakest inkers on your work, and he inked a lot of the Thor books. How did you feel about his work?

ROZ KIRBY: Didn’t you like Sinnott the best?

KIRBY: I liked Sinnott the best. I like Mike Royer. Colletta was a good professional inker, but I didn’t care too much for his particular style.

GROTH: He seemed to mitigate the power of the drawing.

KIRBY: Well, there was nothing I could do about these things at any rate. It was the company that hired these guys, and it was the company that gave them the assignments, and my part in asking for an inker or suggesting an inker was nil. I never made the choice.

ROZ KIRBY: Some of the inkers would actually erase pencil lines.

KIRBY: Yeah. They’d erase my pencil lines. And so I could do nothing about it. I couldn’t make those choices. My main concern was just making a living. I wasn’t going to get temperamental and fight about inkers or anything else. In short, I did what I had to do to supplement my family.

GROTH: Jack said you guys moved out here in ’67.

ROZ KIRBY: Uh... ’68.

GROTH: ’68? So you were still working for Marvel when you moved to California.

KIRBY: Yes.

GROTH: And I believe you left Marvel in around ’70 or ’71, if I remember correctly. You left Marvel somewhere around Fantastic Four #102. You just did a couple of issues past the 100 mark.

ROZ KIRBY: Yeah. That’s right.

GROTH: Now, can you explain the circumstances of why you left Marvel, and why you left at that particular time?

KIRBY: There comes a time when you’ve had a gut-full of everything. I had a gut-full of Marvel, a gut-full of New York.

ROZ KIRBY: And Carmine Infantino came out...

KIRBY: And again, Carmine Infantino also had kind of a gut-full. He was an artist who I thought was out of place either as a publisher or as an editor or anything that merited a higher position.

ROZ KIRBY: He gave Jack the opportunity to do his own work.

GROTH: He came out here and courted you?

KIRBY: Yes. He came out here, and he was very kind to me.

ROZ KIRBY: He came to the house on Passover, and I gave him a matzo-ball soup, and he hated it. [Laughter.]

KIRBY: I guess matzo-ball soup doesn’t agree with everybody.

GROTH: Had you known Infantino prior to his contact with you?

KIRBY: Yes, I did. Infantino was an artist, and he was always a very good artist, and then he became the editor and publisher of DC.

GROTH: Now when you say you had difficulty with Marvel, can you clarify what you mean by that?

KIRBY: I’ll clarify it by saying I’m basically a man. I’m basically a guy from the East Side. I’m basically a guy who likes to be a man, and if you try to deprive me of it, I can’t live with it. That’s what the industry was doing to me, and I had a gut-fall of that. I couldn’t do anything less. I had to get myself as far away.… Well, although Carmine was nice to me, I wasn’t having a great time with him. He was an artist who didn’t know how to be an editor or a publisher. It was his first joust with that kind of—

ROZ KIRBY: But, he gave you the opportunity to do your own work.

KIRBY: Yes, he gave me the opportunity to do The New Gods, and The New Gods was actually a blessing to me because I got off on another course, and The New Gods made sales for DC.

ROZ KIRBY: He had complete control over the writing. He picked his own inker. He could do anything he wanted.

KIRBY: Yeah. Nobody bothered me out here, and I did The New Gods as I saw ’em. I did The New Gods as I felt they should be done.

GROTH: Was it a tough decision to go from Marvel to DC?

ROZ KIRBY: No, because he made more money. They offered him more money.

KIRBY: DC was actually like a haven because I was an individual there. I was able to do something under my own name. In other words, if I wrote, “Jack Kirby” wrote it. If I drew, “Jack Kirby” drew it. And the truth was there, and I began to write and draw, and I felt at last a sense of freedom, and with the sales rising from those books, my freedom became more apparent to me, and I felt a hell of a lot better.

GROTH:When Infantino came out and talked to you, did he offer you all this, or did you actually negotiate for it? Did you tell him you wanted more control over the work?

ROZ KIRBY: He just said we’d like you to work, and Jack said, “Well, I’ll give you three books.”

GROTH: But it was Jack who basically made the suggestion that he do the books, that he have control over them, and so forth.

KIRBY: Yes. That’s what I wanted, and I told Carmine, and he gave them to me. And the books I did for DC were—

ROZ KIRBY: They offered him Superman, but he said he wouldn’t take Superman.

KIRBY: No, I wouldn’t take Superman.

ROZ KIRBY: But he says, “What’s the worst selling book?” and he says, “Jimmy Olsen.” He says, “Give me Jimmy Olsen, and I’ll see what I can do with it.”

KIRBY: I took Jimmy Olsen because it was a dog. It didn’t have the sales of Superman, and I felt the best way I could prove myself was taking a book that was slow and speeding up it’s sales. That’s the way to prove yourself. And so I took Jimmy Olsen, and Jimmy Olsen became part of the series of books that I did for DC, and they all made money. Jimmy Olsen was making money. DC couldn’t believe it. [Laughter.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"A Superman in Supertown" in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #147 (March 1972) was inked and lettered by Mike Royer ©1972 DC Comics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GROTH: How was your relationship with DC during that whole period?

KIRBY: Oh, it was... I had some trouble with them, too.

ROZ KIRBY: Not at the beginning. They let you alone, and they didn’t bother you. When you started doing The New Gods they didn’t bother you.

KIRBY: No, they didn’t bother me when I was doing The New Gods, but there was temperament to contend with, and they had all new editorial people. There was a lot of different temperament to contend with.

ROZ KIRBY: They changed his Superman’s head.

KIRBY: Well, they...

GROTH: They had Curt Swan re-draw all of your Superman heads, didn’t they?

ROZ KIRBY: Now everybody does Superman a different way.

KIRBY: They cut the heads off my Superman, and then they replaced them with a standard Superman head.

GROTH: Did that bother you?

KIRBY: Yes, it bothered me, of course, because a man is entitled to draw things in his own style. I didn’t hurt Superman. I made him powerful. I admire Superman, but I’ve got to do my own style. That’s how I would see it, and I had a right to do that, and nobody had the right to tamper with your work and shape it differently. What if he gave it to an amateur? Think of what an amateur might do to your work. What if this guy thought this amateur had great possibilities, and he wanted to see what he could do with that story? And he picked your story? And you knew damn well what would happen.

GROTH: Luckily, they would never do such a thing. [Silence.] A little joke.

KIRBY:[Chuckling.] Yes. Let me say that all editorial decisions coming down from administration weren’t always wise.

GROTH:[Laughter.] That’s putting it kindly.

KIRBY: Let me put it that way.

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