Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Kirby Influence

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus Vols 1-4
(from 'The 2000 Virtual Kirby Tribute Panel' in The Jack Kirby Collector #27, February 2000)
If I'm not mistaken there was about seven or eight years between the time Jack Kirby went to DC and when I started Cerebus, so I would have to say that we both got caught up in the idea of what you could do with the comic book form on either side of the ground zero point where the direct market came into existence. That is, with the 1966 Batman fad and comic books becoming a collectible and Pop Art and the Esquire "Comics on Campus" thing, there was a sense that comic books not only could be something else but were inevitably going to turn into something else. Meaning no disparagement - okay, maybe a little - I think Stan Lee saw that it could be a very big, fun, lucrative carnival which could be taken seriously and taken as camp and both hands could grab the dough. Not only could you run away and join the circus, you could run away and be the circus. Kirby, on the other hand, looked on it as a chance to tell epic stories and really didn't think much of the carnival side, which only makes sense. However much time Stan spent writing the stories, he had time left over and a carnival sounds like a great idea. Jack Kirby obviously slaved like a Trojan from early morning of one day to early morning of the next. He was probably more concerned about finding time to shave than where he was going to find a good carnival to hang out in. Also, he could look back at 2000+ pages of FF in 1969 and he had started considering what he was going to do on his next 2000 pages and, more importantly, how many thousand more pages in had left in him. Had he known that the direct market was only six or seven yeas away from coming into existence, he might have bided his time - or divided his time between his Marvel workload and his Fourth World epic, using the former to keep food on the table and getting the latter ready to sell to the comic book stores on a non-returnable basis. 20-20 hindsight. I knew enough not to trust any company to have Cerebus' or my best interests at heart when I decided to turn it into an epic 26-year story. Kirby didn't have that option. At the time he started the Fourth World epic he had to trust somebody and the only somebody besides the company he was working for was DC. He trusted that he would make enough money for them that they would see financing the whole epic from start to finish and then keeping it in print to be a smart idea. Of course what he didn't take into account was that a corporate motivation in hiring him away from Marvel had as much to do with hurting Marvel as it did with helping their own bottom line. From DC's standpoint, I think, Jack's departure didn't hurt Marvel enough to warrant seeing the Fourth World through - as Mark Evanier had pointed out and I believe him, the books were still profitable. It was a tragedy and it was very, very regrettable, but that is what corporations are like.

From where I sit it seems even more regrettable because, had DC seen the project through and released the first "phone books" in 1976 - a 500-page New Gods, a 500-page Mister Miracle, etc. - it would have been timed perfectly with the arrival of the direct market and, presumably, Jack Kirby would have gone on to produce another 500-page story or two before he was done with this vale of tears.

I also have a very large twinge of regret that, through self-publishing, I've been able to make a very good living doing my epic just the way I want to do it and without interference, when I consider that Jack Kirby laboured for forty years in the comic book vineyards and missed being able to do the same thing by a piddling period of time like four or five years or so when I started Cerebus. Of course DC finally recognised that it is worth treating token creators better, so that Neil Gaiman did get to finish Sandman, and with what he makes year after year off of the Sandman collections, he probably leaves larger tips than I make a year. So I guess fair is where you find it. I still wouldn't trust DC and further than I could throw the Time-Warner executive washroom.

Anyway, that's my answer to what effect Jack Kirby had on my doing Cerebus.

In the 1960s Jack Kirby (1917-1994), with writer-editor Stan Lee, co-created many of Marvel Comics' major characters, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and the Hulk. Kirby left Marvel in 1970 for rival DC, where he created his Fourth World saga spanning several comic titles (New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People and Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen), but which were prematurely cancelled before the saga was completed.

No comments: