What an honor it has been to have had the opportunity to work with members of the Kirby family over the past couple of years, helping them to maintain the legacy and awareness of Jack Kirby, the undisputed king of comic creators. The wonderful campaign, Kirby4Heroes that was initiated by his youngest granddaughter, Jillian and the personal blog that she allowed us to present on our site last week is a prime example of how the family wishes that Jack is remembered and their own interest in maintaining a continued Kirby presence in the comic community.
As I learn more about Jack Kirby and who he was as a man I wish that I had had more of an opportunity to know him when he was alive.
I was not fortunate enough to have been reading comics when Jack Kirby was in his prime at Marvel. Though I have since had plenty of exposure to his work and have developed a keen appreciation of its value, I was influenced more by comic creators that came after him. They were all, however, students his work giving me the opportunity to realize the importance of studying a true master and developing a unique style.
By the time I became a publisher, Jack Kirby and his battles with Marvel over creator’s rights had become a symbol to me of what should be ethical treatment of creators. He, along with Steve Gerber, stood out as revolutionaries, setting the tone for what would become a movement of independent publishers in the 1980’s of which our former company, Comico, was fortunate to be part of. It was appropriate that the two of them joined forces on DESTROYER DUCK to create one of the first creator owned properties.
I believe I was at ComicCon in 1984 when I met Jack and Roz Kirby for the first and only time. I still struggle to believe that it wasn’t a dream but I had the opportunity to have dinner with them as part of a group at a restaurant and was able to have a wonderful personal conversation with them both. Jack was in his late sixties at the time and I have always been extremely respectful and drawn to seniors and their stories. Even though Jack was and remains a god in the comics industry, he was, more importantly a real, personable, and humble gentleman that was as inviting and encouraging as the World’s Best Grandpa.
It was an incredible evening that I will never forget. We joked and shared a few anecdotes about shop but what I remember most was him telling me a story about how Roz would not let him drive anymore. Jack explained that he would get so distracted thinking about his story ideas while he was driving that he would often find himself lost and having to call home for directions. He said, one day he ended up on some lady’s front lawn with the car staring into her bathroom window. That’s when Roz took the keys. At his side, Roz nodded in confirmation. It was easy to see that she was his protectorate and word around the industry was that she was a dynamic force to be reckoned with. What was obvious was that they were a wonderful, loving couple that respected each other throughout the long years of their marriage.
I think of this story every time I find myself doubling back looking for a turn that I missed due to my own preoccupation with my next “brilliant” idea. I was also fortunate enough to marry a dynamic, strong-minded, woman that always has my back. So, though I may not possess an ounce of the talent Jack Kirby had, I always felt that I related to him as a person through some sort of kindred spirit.
This is why I get so passionate about creator’s rights. To me it is less about ownership, and who did what. It is about the real people involved. Their personal investment. Their hopes, dreams, and fears. Their families. Their legacy.
As a comic creator and publisher I like to think that the value of our work is substantiated by the history behind it. Each moment in time establishes a benchmark by which each new work is measured. Jack Kirby’s work established a standard for excellence in comics that stands alone for the sheer volume and brilliance of creativity.
Unfortunately, histories often incur atrocities. The worst thing we can do is ignore them or pretend that they never happened. Gross injustices need to be singled out, addressed, and corrected. They need to be never forgotten so that they may not be repeated. Unfortunately the comic book industry was built on an unethical treatment of creators since inception, a system which continues to be recognized as common industry practices even today. The damages will probably never be repaired but the injustices need to be acted upon appropriately and with finality. Jack Kirby’s legacy stands as a monument to those travesties every time his heirs or estate sees no compensation from the billions of dollars that are generated by his creations. Jack Kirby’s legacy is a testimonial as to why those unethical treatments of creators and their creative properties should be permanently changed and not be repeated.
It is so important that we remember the humanity of Jack Kirby and do not get lost in just the brilliance of his creations which is so easy to do. Jack was a man that grew up in the ghetto, he fought for his country, married the love of his life, was a father and a grandfather. He was a kind man. He made something of his life doing what he loved, and fought for what he deserved till he died. Jack lived the American dream and experienced the nightmare of corporate greed.
It is our job to make sure that Jack Kirby and every comic creator that he symbolically represents, is remembered for their accomplishments, their talents, their struggles and their role as a member of the extended comic community. It is our job to carry their torch forward and guarantee ethical treatment of creators and their rightful properties. It is our job to never forget Jack Kirby.