2007

Practitioners 49: Jack Kirby (Part 3)

In November 1961 The Fantastic Four #1 hit the newsstands across America. The story of four uniquely powered individuals related to each other as relatives, in friendship and purpose, revolutionised the industry. Although clearly reminiscent of hundreds of Sci-fi books before this had a comparative naturalism to it that hadn’t been seen before blended with a cosmic purview informed by boundless imagination. It was powered by Marvel Editor-in-chief Stan Lee and seasoned comics artist Jack Kirby.

For almost a decade, Kirby provided Marvel’s house style, co-creating with Stan Lee many of the Marvel characters and designing their visual motifs. At Lee’s request he often provided ‘new-to-marvel artists ‘breakdown’ layouts, over which they would pencil in order to become acquainted with the Marvel look. As artist Gil Kane described:

‘Jack was the single most influential figure in the turnaround in Marvel’s fortunes from the time he rejoined the company … It wasn’t merely that Jack conceived most of the characters that are being done, but … Jack’s point of view and philosophy of drawing became the governing philosophy of the entire publishing company and, beyond the publishing company, of the entire field … [Marvel took] Jack and use[d] him as a primer. They would get artists … and they taught them the ABCs, which amounted to learning Jack Kirby. … Jack was like the Holy Scripture and they simply had to follow him without deviation. That’s what was told to me … It was how they taught everyone to reconcile all those opposing attitudes to one single master point of view.’

Highlights from the House of Ideas other than the Fantastic Four include: Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the original X-Men, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Galactus, Uatu the Watcher, Magneto, Ego the Living Planet, the Inhumans and their hidden city Attilan and the Black Panther – comic’s first black superhero – and his African nation Wakanda. Last year and 2010 Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men grossed worldwide ($1,425,062,845) One Billion, four hundred and twenty five million, sixty two thousand, eight hundred and forty five dollars (A combination of $623,933,331 for Iron Man 2, $448,512,824 for Thor and $352,616,690 for X-Men: First Class). This was begun by two men, one of which was Jack Kirby. They cemented the concepts so clearly that while developed, the core values remain. All of them have the best writers, directors and actors vying to be a small part in the development of these ideas formed 51 years ago. Decades of the most talented artists have looked to Kirby for inspiration. His ideas as only presented more clearly, barely changed from the original concept design – perhaps drawn, in one case, on a table in Brooklyn many years before – with thoughts of war he hadn’t yet been called on to fight in his mind.

In March 1964, Simon and Kirby’s Captain America was also incorporated into Marvel, Kirby approving Lee’s idea of partially remaking the characters as a man out of his time and regretting the death of his partner. The suit returned almost exactly as it had been 23 years before. Last year, Captain America made $368,608,363 at the box office as Kirby’s suit stepped, again almost unchanged close to 70 years after the day it was designed on the back of Chris Evans.

In 1968 and 1969, Joe Simon was involved in litigation with Marvel Comics over the ownership of Captain America, initiated by Marvel after Simon registered the copyright renewal for Captain America in his own name. According to Simon, Kirby agreed to support the company in the litigation and, as part of a deal Kirby made with publisher Martin Goodman, signed over to Marvel any rights he might have had to the character.

Kirby continued to push the industries boundaries, devising photo collage covers and interiors reminiscent of ’80s artists in England playing with sellotape and photocopiers. Developing new drawing techniques such as the method of depicting energy fields known as ‘Kirbydots’ and other experiments. Able to handle high detail, explosive composition, emotion, perspective, conceptualisation and design – it was Kirby’s sense of scale that blows many artists away. Alien engines dwarf figures in certain panels, coils, springs and rivets collected together in such ways that they seem to be an optical illusion. Perspective twists in some of his environments such as Mr Fantastic’s lab in a way that somehow bends the eye. Many generations of artists have dismissed Kirby as dated or unsophisticated until presented with his depictions of machinery and the Silver Surfer.

A character of incredible simplicity, divinity and … just … cool. The concept of a humanoid riding the waves of space at incredible speeds highlights the natural beauty and associations with divine advancement incorporating the universe around it and the increased simplicity it brings. But none of that is said. But all of it is inherent. A perfectly formed, universally accessible character made even more interesting by Stan Lee by being a good man acting as herald to a being of unimaginable power. Again, the genius of the character is that it is a perfect template that can be adapted into anyone’s style. Much like any Kirby character you can mention. The simplicity and intuitive details he applies are often so universal that they are only more interesting with each new reinterpretation. While Iron Man had to inevitably change as technology developed, Thor still carries the same Hammer and wears the same white riveted top, Captain America still has his Red, White and Blue, the star on his chest and the skull cap design applied to him in the newest incarnation, the Ultimates, by Bryan Hitch is a throwback to Kirby’s original design, Hulk remains Green (as he was in his second appearance) and even had a Grey countenance as Peter David’s Joe Fixit in the ’90s – a nod to the original design. Black Panther, Magneto, The Inhumans and Attilan have also only ever been refined – never redesigned. This is the testament to the lasting influence of Kirby. Even the X-Men have retained the yellow and blue of their original uniforms for more than 45 years. Somehow Kirby just knew. Wiser than the rest of us what he put down on paper worked and generations of artists have never cracked how to improve on his original designs.

Yet, Kirby grew increasingly unhappy at Marvel. The reasons given for this included resentment over Stan Lee’s increasing media prominence, a lack of full creative control, anger over breaches of perceived promises by publisher Martin Goodman and at Marvel specifically for lack of credit for his story plotting, character creations and co-creations. He began to both script and draw some secondary features for Marvel, such as “The Inhumans” in Amazing Adventures, as well as horror stories for the anthology title Chamber of Darkness, and received full credit for doing so; but he eventually left the company in 1970 for rival DC Comics, under editorial director Carmine Infantino.

Spending nearly two years trying to negotiate a three year contract with the option of staying on a further two additional years. In 1970, at the age of 53, Kirby joined DC and immediately started creating a ‘Fourth World’. A trilogy of New Titles – New Gods, Mister Miracle and The Forever People. He took on Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen because the series was without a stable creative team and he didn’t want to be responsible for losing anyone their job. The central villain of the Fourth World, Darkseid, and some other Fourth World concepts appeared in the pages of Jimmy Olsen before being launched as their own series, giving greater exposure to potential buyers. Jack Kirby remained an incredibly shrewd operator, still demonstrating the guile and forward thinking that is expected of great creative directors. Though here he was without a company, working as he had always wanted to. As a creative.

Kirby had a lasting effect on DC too, leaving characters that have recurred or consistently remained in the DC Universe, though not as centrally as the Marvel Universe. These included OMAC (seen in the Final Crisis crossover of 2009), Kamandi, The Demon, The Losers, Dingbats of Danger Street, Kobra and together with old partner Joe Simon for one last time, a new incarnation of the Sandman.

But it had to be said that rather than Kirby having Marvel blood in his veins, Marvel ran on Kirby Engine Oil and the company would always have taken him back. In 1975, Stan Lee used a Fantastic Four discussion panel to announce that Kirby was returning to Marvel. Ever the showman, Lee wrote in his monthly article ‘Stan Lee’s Soapbox’ that “I mentioned that I had a special announcement to make. As I started telling about Jack’s return, to a totally incredulous audience, everyone’s head started to snap around as Kirby himself came waltzin’ down the aisle to join us on the rostrum! You can imagine how it felt clownin’ around with the co-creator of most of Marvel’s greatest strips once more.”

Back at Marvel, Kirby both wrote and drew Captain America and created the series The Eternals, which featured a race of inscrutable alien giants, the Celestials, whose behind-the-scenes intervention in primordial humanity would eventually become a core element of Marvel Universe continuity. Kirby’s other Marvel creations in this period include Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man, and an adaptation and expansion of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as an abortive attempt to do the same for the classic television series, The Prisoner. He also wrote and drew Black Panther and did numerous covers across the line.

Still dissatisfied with Marvel’s treatment of him and with the companies refusal to provide health and other employment benefits, Kirby sadly left Marvel to work in animation. In that field, he did designs for Turbo Teen, Thundarr the Barbarian and other animated television series. He also worked on The Fantastic Four cartoon show, reuniting him with scriptwriter Stan Lee. He illustrated an adaptation of the Walt Disney movie The Black Hole for Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales syndicated comic strip in 1979-80.

In the early 1980s, Pacific Comics, a new, non-newsstand comic book publisher, made a then-groundbreaking deal with Kirby to publish a creator-owned series Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, and a six-issue mini-series called Silver Star which was collected in hardcover format in 2007. This, together with similar actions by other independent comics publishers as Eclipse Comics (where Kirby co-created Destroyer Duck in a benefit comic-book series published to help Steve Gerber fight a legal case versus Marvel), helped establish a precedent to end the monopoly of the work for hire system, wherein comics creators, even freelancers, had owned no rights to characters they created.
Though estranged from Marvel, Kirby continued to do periodic work for DC Comics during the 1980s, including a brief revival of his “Fourth World” saga in the 1984 and 1985 Super Powers mini-series and the 1985 graphic novel The Hunger Dogs. And in 1987, under much industry pressure, Marvel finally returned much of Kirby’s original art to him.
Kirby also retained ownership of characters used by Topps Comics beginning in 1993, for a set of series in what the company dubbed “The Kirbyverse”. These titles were derived mainly from designs and concepts that Kirby had kept in his files, some intended initially for the by-then-defunct Pacific Comics, and then licensed to Topps for what would become the “Jack Kirby’s Secret City Saga” mythos. Marvel posthumously published a “lost” Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four story, Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure (April 2008), with unused pages Kirby had originally drawn for Fantastic Four 108 (March 1971).
On February 6, 1994, Kirby died at age 76 of heart failure in his Thousand Oaks, California home. He was buried at the Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park, Westlake Village, California.

Kirby’s legacy is enormous. Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis crossover hinged on Kirby’s Fourth World – specifically Darkseid himself – inflicting themselves on Earth, Captain America still leads the Avengers / Ultimates in colours picked out for him by a man he could have fought in the war with. The Hulk continues to smash, the Surfer continues to glide through the Marvel Universe. Artists around the world look to Kirby’s example of steadfast, unfussy iconography, simple, effective design and dizzying compositions. A generation of Marvel artists were trained by him. But more important than that, Jacob Kurtzberg of Suffolk Street, New York City built dreams others could build upon while simply building his own. He has influenced and inspired thousands of creatives (including this one) and built a House of Ideas that millions of people continue to enjoy. Kirby is a true legend to those who know, possibly the greatest comic book artist who ever lived. Responsible for the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Mr Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and The Human Torch. If they existed, all of them would have visited the grave of Jack Kirby. The Hulk would have stood in the rain over Kirby’s resting place, a giant over a small guy’s crypt and simply said ‘Goodbye Dad’. With that, the broad shouldered goliath would turn and launch himself up into the sky, disappearing into the distance. If Kirby, lying where he was could see it he’d have thought ‘Good angle, but perhaps it could be just a little tighter…’

The Lost Jedi: Master Govija Kaoli

Jedi Master Govija Kaoli (Jack Gavin) is a whip crack smart tactician who always gets every body killed. Always put at the sharp end because of his calm exterior, Govija Kaoli has only one true Achilles heel. His Padawan Mooba Choobi. Having been assigned an idiot nephew to the successful Hooba Choobi, Govija finds his path immeasurably blocked by the affable buffoon. Govija is a kind hearted warrior with almost immeasurable patience and a wry view of the universe but even he is uncertain whether his strong Jedi intuition and piloting abilities will help him survive alongside such an incredible idiot.

Jack Gavin doing a pose

Lost Jedi: Side Characters

Based on characters and actors from the Star Wars Exhibition in London in 2007, the Lost Jedi is an epic tale featuring unknown Jedi and Imperialist forces as well as some well known faces (Darth Sidious, Vader and Jedi Master Yoda are all featured in the collection). Collected here are the developed character designs and intended basic plot lines for the Lost Jedi. The Lost Jedi is a non-profit fan project based on Star Wars.

Sas


A Freight Runner and notorious smuggler, Sas is called upon by Sain Kaspah to help him to locate further Jedi that might be in trouble. She agrees on the proviso that he never darkens her door again – something that initially Sain is only to happy to agree to. A capable fighter and handy with a blaster, Sas has a penchant for musicians and likes to live on the wild side of the galaxy.

Harrun Bahk


A mysterious figure but one that has a vested interest in the Sas and her misadventures.

Jedi Knight Sam Kespah


Retired Jedi Knight Sain Kaspah. Sain is no longera Jedi Knight and all knowledge of him has been wiped from the records. He is however simultaneously the most famous Jedi in the Galaxy. Upon leaving the Jedi Order at the level of Knight he decided to pursue a career as a holovid star. He is reknowned galaxy wide as the star of Jedi holo vids. Tolerated by the Jedi Order because of his affable and honest nature, Sain has sworn to never reveal his affiliation. However recent events have changed the situation dramatically…

Lost Jedi: The Clawing Legion

Based on characters and actors from the Star Wars Exhibition in London in 2007, the Lost Jedi is an epic tale featuring unknown Jedi and Imperialist forces as well as some well known faces (Darth Sidious, Vader and Jedi Master Yoda are all featured in the collection). Collected here are the developed character designs and intended basic plot lines for the Lost Jedi. The Lost Jedi is a non-profit fan project based on Star Wars.

The first specialist, non-clone forces chosen to wear Imperial armour, each is handed an entire unit of specialist Clone Troopers and sent out into the galaxy to locate and destroy any remaining pockets of resistance – and specifically, Jedi. Specialists in various fields they are each chosen on the merit (or demerit) of their past. With nothing to lose – facing death sentences in each of their respective systems – this is their final reprieve. Do or die. Between them they are responsible for more than 12 Jedi kills during the course of the Lost Jedi. However, not without enormous losses, including their own lives. Only one member of Clawing Legion makes it to the Barren Moon for the final showdown. But which?

Trooper Schemi Ikel

Commander Tee Ald

Trooper Wes Nadir

The Lost Jedi: Part One

On May 4th 2007, the Star Wars Exhibition in London opened at the County Hall in Westminster, overlooking the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. With marble staircases and pillars, wood panelled hallways and shiny floors you could be mistaken for thinking you were walking the halls of Naboo (if you were a fan boy). Assembled at the opening were a group of actors who had associated themselves with Star Wars at Chessington. They were Tom Jordan, Seb Morgan, Alan Mandel Butler, Sydnee Howard and Jack Gavin. Also present was Marcus Sinclair, a man who had overcome considerable resistance from Lucasarts to become the Emperor in the Exhibition. 2 weeks later they took on myself and a number of actors to represent Jedi. Nicknamed on my first day the ‘Landlord Jedi’ by Alistair Reith (another actor), I managed to find a niche as Taaka Dahl (a Red Dwarf gag), Rebel Trooper.

It was made clear by Lucasarts that we couldn’t use existing character names and had to develop our own. While mine never developed beyond Sergeant in the rebel army (occassionally busted up to Jedi Master and in a particularly cool moment, a Tie Fighter Commander called Count Nefar the audiences never really got on board with). In the main hall, a high domed chamber like a grand circular court room the hourly (half hourly) show took place to the excitement of pretty much every kid (and adult). The Jedi School followed a rushed teaching of the way of the force to chosen Padawan (kids) in order to defend them from the newly apparent Sith. The Emperor would appear and threaten the Jedi Master and his Padawan as well as the assembled kids before the great set piece.

The Main Chamber - County Hall, Westminster

The lights would go out leaving only the flickering lightsabres at the centre of the room visible and three mechanical breaths would steadily sound. With the beginning of the Imperial March, the assembled characters, Padawans and visitors were presented with a familiar silhouette in the high vaulted doorway. Darth Vader would descend doiwn the steps with the music, the Jedi Master calling out orders to everyone assembled pointlessly over the noise and chaos. Some kid must have wet themselves with excitement at the sight of the seven foot giant striding slowly down the steps towards the Padawans. It was clear to me whenever I saw it that this was the stuff straight out of the movies. The divide between the two was seamless. We saw US versions with chubby American accented Obi Wan look a likes playing at Star Wars but the combination of the chamber and the lighting rig, the music, the english accents, the quality of the costumes (by Stephen Du Toit – mate to the Bunker), the master cast versions of the lightsabres that swooshed and lit up accurately, the real 7 foot Vader (played by official giant Daniel Vivien) and the atmosphere combined into something more real and engaging than I saw anywhere else. It gave me ideas….

FIRST PAGE OF ISSUE 1 OF LOST JEDI. DESIGNED BY ME IN 2009.

In the Star Wars movies the one point in which there are Padawans and Sith is at the end of Part III: Revenge of the Sith. This is always the most interesting part of the story and at the time the one that Lucasarts had missed. That of the decimation of the Jedi and the New Empires pursuit of those that were left. Perfect conditions for a great story, Jedis as rebels and the early formed Empire doing all it can to hunt them down. In the same period all the actors had developed their own characters, each with characteristics very different to all others. The proud and confident Padawan Man El Perio (played by Alan Mandel Butler) stood beside the stern and irrascible Rial Shif (played by Alistiar Reith). As the Exhibition came to its end it seemed to me that the best way to celebrate my time there was to bring the characters to life in the only way available to me. Over the next few months, artworks were produced of every member of the cast with the addition of side characters and enemies. Each carried its own name and steadily built into a story that may never be told anywhere else.

Its a tale of Jedi on the run and a desperate attempt to circumvent the terrible fate of an entire galaxy by brave souls in difficult stuff. I’m convinced if it ever saw the light of day it’d be enormous but short of a phone call to/from George Lucas this is the only place you’ll be able to see it. The entire story exists and much of it will be realised with the introduction of the characters but the spoilers have been kept to an absolute minimum. All you’ll find here is the character art and their starting points in the tale. If you want to see more, call George Lucas and give him my number.

Cheers.