It’s fair to say that Heavy Metal has gone a bit Jack Kirby-crazy these days. And it’s fair to say that Jack Kirby deserves all the mania we can muster. We are currently offering a series of Barry Geller and Jack Kirby’s “Lord of Light” prints — which had a little something to do with the CIA operation that inspired the movie Argo — in the Heavy Metal store, and for comics junkies it really doesn’t get much better than that. But there’s always room for gravy, isn’t there? Here we have Heavy Metal‘s Editor -in-Chief, Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, reflecting on just how much Jack “King” Kirby has meant to him over his long career. Enjoy this recollection from an uber-fan:
Jack Kirby is one of the main reasons I have the job that I have now, and have been able to make a living at for the last thirty one years.
I discovered comics at a young age. I had a paper route at the age of nine, and saved up each month so I could bike down to the closest place that sold comics — about five miles away — when comics cost twenty cents each. I would read a few of them on the steps of the store, eating a Twinkie and drinking a Yoo-Hoo, and then read the rest once I got home, over and over and over again. This is where I discovered Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth!
Interestingly enough, the first movie I recall seeing in a movie theater was Planet of the Apes, and it blew my mind. Kirby’s take on this concept with Kamandi took it to a whole other level. Out of many Kirby favorites, as well as favorite comics in general, this still remains near the very top of my all-time list. Period.
I think it was Jack’s style of storytelling. The pacing was always intense, the writing was just enough to get the point across — Jack’s stories were never overwritten — and dramatic. And the artwork — MAN, the artwork! — those full page splashes, the double page spreads, every panel on every page seemed to explode with a visual so striking, you couldn’t wait to jump to the next one to see what was going to happen next.
Most all of my early drawings were either tracing Jack Kirby’s work, or using his style to tell my own stories. (I still have all that early work with me.) As the years went by, I eventually grew into, more or less, a style of my own, but every time I wanted to get energized — excited about creating/writing/drawing a story — I always seemed to end up picking up a Kirby comic and flipping through it for inspiration. It never failed.
I tried to sell some of my stories to a little magazine in Northampton Massachusetts, called “Scat” — they weren’t really doing the magazine any more, but they told me my style of artwork reminded them of another local artist named Peter Laird, and I should meet him. After a short exchange of letters, Pete invited me over, and the first thing I saw when I entered his little studio apartment was an unfinished pencil page of The Losers by Jack Kirby.
I nearly passed out — I had never seen one of his originals before, and to me it was like looking at the Holy Grail. Peter and I bonded on many levels during that first meeting, but I think our mutual love of Jack Kirby was the glue — and well, we all know what happened after that meeting, which was nearly 35 years ago.
The first time I met Jack Kirby was in 1985 or ’86, on one of the early trips to San Diego Comic Con. I recall the whispers at the show, which was then very small: “Kirby’s in the building…” as Peter and I dropped everything and ran over to see him.
By the time we got there, he was surrounded by about 50 fans, and he was just finishing an answer about the creation of Captain America, and when he was done, another fan seemed like he asked the very same question — to which Jack answered with the same love and glow and pride as he did the first time around. He gave that fan, and all of us, such a wonderful moment — it was easy to see how much he loved his work, and I remember thinking if I was lucky enough to have fans one day, I hope that I’m as respectful to them, as thankful to them, as he was. They were the reason he had the coolest job on the planet.
My fans are why I have the coolest job on the planet — I never forgot that moment, and still think of it often.
Over the years, both Peter and I got to spend more time with the Kirbys. His wife Rosalind was the godmother to all his fans, and an amazing person. We were invited up to his home in Thousand Oaks, where he’d give you the tour of the house, which had his artwork all over the walls. It’s where I first saw the “Lord of Light” work. At the end of the tour was his desk — a tiny little beat up/well loved wooden table, where so much of that brilliant work had come to life. I was too scared to even touch it.
Of so many amazing moments with my personal superhero, Jack Kirby, one of the highlights was doing an issue of the TMNTs, the Donatello one-shot, where we created a character named Kirby, who had a magic crystal attached to his pencil, and everything he drew in the basement of April’s Second Time Around shop came to life… and if you want to know the rest of the story, go find it, it is worth the read. It was an idea Peter had, and it was our intent to donate all the profits from the sale of it to help Jack with his battle with Marvel to get his original artwork back, and more credit over his co-creations. He gave us his blessing to use him in the story, but wouldn’t take any of the money from it.
One final memory I’ll share with you, as I got to revisit it recently. Jack sent Peter and me a penciled pin-up of his version of the TMNTs in the late 80’s and it was mind-blowing for both of us — the guy who inspired us to create, doing a drawing of one of our creations? Holy Hippo Spit, there was nothing cooler on the planet! (Peter won the coin toss and still has it in his personal collection.) Although that was a short 25 years ago, it still gives me goosebumps.
Then one of the IDW editors asked me, “Why don’t you do an inked version of that Kirby piece for the cover of IDW’s TMNT #50?” I jumped on it, and got to relive a lifetime of awesome Jack Kirby memories over the next two days, doing my best to do him justice, and remembering: this was the guy who got me into comics, this guy is the reason I do what I do, and I have the coolest job on the planet.
Thanks Jack, Mr. Kirby, my personal superhero, for giving so much pleasure to so many.
Your Loyal Fan,
Note: IDW’s TMNT #50 with the Jack Kirby Kevin Eastman cover comes out in August, and the “Lord of Light” project will be shown for the first time in print as a gallery in Heavy Metal #276, on newsstands in August. The issue will feature Jack Kirby on the front cover — for the first time ever.