(Captain America #8, 1941)
The late Jack Kirby was arguably the most influential creative force on the planet today. The look and feeling of all comic books comes from his work as artist, storyteller, and, most importantly, as conceptualist.
And since comic books are the basis for 90% of today’s films, either directly (comic book adaptations or indirectly (just about any and every 21st Century action film blockbuster), Kirby’s action-packed perspective is, literally, everywhere.
Which is why we at TVWriter™ were so delighted to find the following interview about Kirby’s life, attitudes, and work ethic over at TCJ.Com. (The Comics Journal.) As far as we’re concerned, this should be required reading for every “creative:
Jack Kirby Interview by Gary Groth
(From The Comics Journal #134 February 1990)
It’s accurate enough to refer to Jack Kirby as an American original, but it’s hard to know where to place the emphasis — on American or original. He’s certainly both, in spades. Renowned as one of the handful of true artistic giants in the history of comic books, it’s difficult to come up with encomiums that have not become commonplace. Although I had known Jack for some time and spoken to him not infrequently prior to conducting this “formal” interview, it was not until I read over the transcript that I understood just how thoroughly Jack is a child of his time and place.
Growing up on the Lower East Side shaped his life and his work which, combined with a robust imagination and seemingly inexhaustible energy, substantially shaped the trajectory of the American commercial comic book. A dubious contribution to the American comic book, you may think, until you realized that it wasn’t Kirby’s fault that hacks and no talents, aided and abetted by opportunistic publishers, have been ripping off his work and plagiarizing him wholesale for decades.
Though the refined eyes of the aesthete may consider Kirby’s work crude, ornery, and anti-intellectual, the fact remains that he combined the virtues and limitations of his class with a stubborn genius to produce a body of comics work that has remained consistently true to its source and is unparalleled both in quantity and quality.
This interview was conducted in three different sessions over the summer of 1989 at the Kirby’s comfortable home in Thousand Oaks, a suburb of Los Angeles. Jack’s wife, Roz, sat in on the interviews and helped recall with precision key points in Jack’s career. My thanks to them both, specifically for helping assemble artwork illustrating this interview, and more generally for their friendship over the last half dozen years.
All images written and drawn by Kirby unless otherwise noted.
GROWING UP ON THE EAST SIDE
JACK KIRBY: I don’t know where your father comes from, but where I came from, everybody was an immigrant. My people were from Europe. My family came from Austria, both my mother and my father. We lived on New York’s Lower East Side. The value of money was different then. We paid $12 rent a month, and a nickel was worth maybe the equivalent of a dollar today.
It was very hard for a young man to get a nickel from his mother, but somehow you managed. When I visited New York, somebody thought it would give me a big thrill if he took me down there where I grew up, and I’d be thrilled by the sight of my humble origins, and I hated the place. I wanted to get out of there! [Laughter.]