So I still haven’t finished Third Coast, or Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and instead I tore through Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution by Ronin Ro. I realized while I was reading it that I have probably read every book Ronin Ro has written, even Gangster, his collection of hip-hop essays. The only one I may not have finished is Raising Hell: The Reign, Ruin, and Redemption of Run-D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay. In fact, I realized that while I was pretending that I had been focused on finishing the Southern hip-hop and Fats Domino books, I had finished reading several other books, one of which was Ro’s bio of Dr. Dre. He certainly consistently writes about people and things I am interested in, even if I have my criticisms of his work.
The book Tales to Astonish really hit me with just how much of the licensed properties that make billions of dollars for the companies that own Marvel and DC came from Jack Kirby’s brain, and the man was a freelancer who owned the rights to none of them, and made a page rate fee for creating the bulk of the Marvel Universe, and still-vital chunks of the DC Universe (yielding material for the current DC mega-events). What’s so sad is that he co-created characters like the X-Men, Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Silver Surfer, the Avengers, Black Panther (the first black superhero was wasn’t a 1940’s black face stereotype), and even an early version of Spider-Man called Spiderman which eventually became the character developed by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, yet he nor his family will ever receive a cent of royalties of all the money these characters make their corporate owners.
Jack Kirby is a legend who blew me away upon first exposure. My grandfather gathered comics thrown away by people while doing his newspaper route and my grandmother gave me an assortment when I visited them once as a child. In the batch was New Gods #2 which instantly wowed me; Metron, his Mobius chair, the gods trapped on the edge of the Source Wall. Boom! (Tube.) I don’t know that I had ever paid attention to an artist’s credit in a comic book before, but one comic was enough to have me remember the name Jack Kirby. Jack was my first “favorite artist,” until some time later I picked up a copy of Uncanny X-Men 140 and discovered John Byrne’s work.
Born Jacob Kurtzberg, the man changed his name to Jack and proceeded to get jacked. Poor Jacob. Stanley Lieber did a lot better. The book makes a point of how effectively “Stan Lee” took credit for all the Marvel characters, and continues to this day as a million-dollar-a-year consultant for the company. To drive the point home even further, I was describing to a friend in Philly what the book was about, and when I mentioned all the superheroes Jack and Stan created, he said, “Yeah, they were all invented by Stan Lee. I’ve never heard of that other guy.” So sad. I got really emotional reading about all Jack’s efforts to stay afloat over the years, while his creations raked in millions for those that had nothing to do with bringing them into the world. At least Stan Lee had a salary; Jack was always freelance, and never owned or received royalties for any of his creations.
As a kid I loved the cartoon series Thundarr the Barbarian, and the book described Jack’s having created many of the villains on that show, which I didn’t know at the time. One of the bad guys, Lord Argoth of a Thousand Eyes, was so visually astounding for children’s television at the time, it makes total sense that he was a Jack Kirby creation.
I was also lucky enough to stumble upon issue number one of OMAC as a child. See the following images for an idea of how much of an impact that had on my little child mind.
I lifted these images from this blog post.
Jack Kirby was the first creator to give me the idea of becoming not just a comics artist, but a comics writer and artist. So many comics are created by separate writers and artists, that as a child, that was my only concept until I read the credits for New Gods #2. Also in elementary school I discovered Frank Miller’s Daredevil, and Jim Starlin’s Captain Marvel and Warlock comics, which furthered my appreciation for comics writer-artists. Up until I graduated from high school there was no other thought in my mind but that I would be a comic book writer and artist. I just thought I would go to college first, and get a solid academic education. After I left for college I never created another comic book again.