Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Happy Birthday, Jack!
My admiration of Kirby is well documented: even before I enjoyed superhero stories, I thrilled to his pre-hero monster and SF tales for Strange Tales, Journey into Mystery, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish. His art enthralled me; his monsters were massive and monstrous, his action sequences were dynamic, his panels struggled to contain the energy that he conveyed in his linework. I was a Marvel superhero fan from the moment I saw his artwork on Fantastic Four #1; even though I wasn't capable of putting an artist's name with his work at that time, I knew this was the work of a man who was equally adept at drawing the monstrous, the grotesque, and the heroic. He brought a monster-movie sensibility to superhero comics in a way that no one else did, and I loved it.
On his birthday, I'll share two Kirby stories that my friends have heard me tell and retell.
Story Number One: At one San Diego Comic Con, I was lucky enough to enjoy a lengthy conversation with Jack and wife Ros. I had interviewed Jack over the phone previously, and wanted to introduce myself and express my sincere admiration for his work. Jack remembered me and invited my friend Charles and I to join him. We had been talking for several minutes when a brusque man stepped directly in front of me, his back to me as he greeted Jack and began talking to him. He didn't even acknowledge that we existed; he acted as if he thought it would be beneath him to speak to us at all. Suddenly Jack interrupted him by putting his hand up; the speaker halted, at which point Jack pointed to me and to Charles and said, "Bob, have you met my friends Cliff and Charles? Cliff, Charles--this is Bob Kane." Bob Kane, of course, is the man who has been contractually credited as the creator of Batman (although I would argue that Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson deserve much of the credit for that). At that moment, though, Bob was just a guy who had interrupted a conversation, and Jack wouldn't let him get away with it. Jack treated everyone with equal respect, and expected the same of others--even those with an ego as large as Bob Kane's.
Story Number Two: Jack regaled us with conversations about his war experiences, with tales of his work in the early days of Marvel's Silver Age, about moving to California--and then he began asking us questions. What got us into comics? What titles did we like? Then, since I had mentioned being a fan of his work from the beginning of the Marvel Age, he asked me what was my favorite story of his. I replied instantly. "'Fantastic Four #4. I loved that Sub-Mariner story," I told him. Jack smiled; the he looked me in the eye, and said with absolute sincerity, "Cliff, I drew that story for you." And at that moment, I believed it just as much as he did. I have never looked at that wonderful story the same way since then; it holds a special significance, because when Jack drew it he knew that there were legions of younger readers like me who had never heard of the Sub-Mariner before, but would be captivated by Kirby's reintroduction of the character into the then-new Marvel Universe.
Thanks, Jack--thanks for the memories, thanks for the talent and genius you shared with us, thank for the amazing worlds of imagination you let us peer into. And 96 years later, I commemorate your birth and want you to know that you changed my life.