I did a huge amount of research for my book. I collected hundreds of articles, interviews and transcription. This one, from Earth Watch on WBAI radio on Jack Kirby’s birthday in 1987 is very interesting because towards the end, Stan Lee calls and he and Jack have a disagreement about credits.
Jack Kirby and Stan Lee radio interview Earth Watch WBAI 1987
(Click to open MP3 audio file in separate window)
Robert Knight: This is Earth Watch, and we now join Jack Kirby, speaking with us live. Good morning, Jack.
Jack Kirby: How are you?
Robert Knight: Just fine. The first thing I have to say is, happy birthday and thank you.
Jack Kirby: I understand Warren Reese is in the studio and I’d like you to say hello to him and –
Robert Knight: Well, let him say hello to you.
Warren Reese: Jack, happy birthday. We all love you.
Jack Kirby: Warren, it’s a pleasure talking to you and I want to thank you for the, for the picture and it was just beautiful.
Warren Reese: I couldn’t miss, Jack, because I say in all sincerity, and I did try to do it in the period style, I learned how to draw that way looking at things that you did. And as I’ve said before, although people take formal lessons in art, I don’t think that the youngsters can catch on quickly looking at classical paintings and classical illustration. But you have that magnificent fusion between cartooning and straight illustration that made it comprehensible and so that even a guy like me could at least begin to catch on. I know I waited years and years just to be able to maybe spend an hour with you sometime and so I gotta tell you, I am thrilled to be able to share this moment with you like this.
Robert Knight: Let me point out that Warren Reese is also the author of the early history articles in Marvel Age, the Marvel Comics postcard book, etc. etc., and he owns one of the most complete collections of Marvel-related materials in the world, if not the universe, including the most valuable sequel comic book in the world, it is argued, Marvel consultant, Stan Lee’s personal cosmetologist, Warren Reese is also here in the studio. I’m Robert Knight and we’re also assisted in this program by Max Schmeid and Creative Unity and a lot of other people who love the work that you have done over the years, Jack. When you went to what became Marvel Comics, you were something of a pioneer in the way that comics came to be produced in terms of the artist having a controlling influence in the direction of the book; is that right?
Jack Kirby: The artist, the artist always had. The artist influence is the visual part of the book and the visual part of the book is what attracts the attention. And in order to make sales, the visual part of the book is the, is the, is the, is what attracts the eye. You can see it from a newsstand, you could see it from the store window. Whatever you see is, is what attracts you. And the job of the comic book artist is essentially sales, and therefore I felt that was my job and I did it as spectacularly as I could.
Robert Knight: Are you still with us, Jack?
Jack Kirby: Yes, I’m still here.
Robert Knight: Okay. Now, part of that work at Marvel included a most astonishing, to coin a phrase, collaboration with Stan Lee. How did you to guys start working together?
Jack Kirby: Stan Lee was the editor of Marvel and I had worked at Marvel much earlier, and in fact when I, when I first went to work for Marvel, it was in partnership with Joe Simon who was a fine artist and a fine story teller and a wonderful guy. And we got along great and we sold Captain America to Marvel, the idea of Captain America, and Captain America began the, I imagine what you might call the comic revolution.
Warren Reese: Talk a little bit about your early days in the business, and in fact take it from your early life as a tough member of the newsboy legion on the lower east side here in New York.
Jack Kirby: Well, I thank you for asking. The lower east side was a, was a, well, I imagine it, it was a people place.
Warren Reese: You lived on Suffolk Street, didn’t you, Jack?
Jack Kirby: Yes, I lived on Suffolk Street.
Warren Reese: Do you remember which number? We want to put a bronze plaque out front.
Jack Kirby: Well, it’s 130–I believe it was 131 Suffolk Street.
Warren Reese: And your brother Dave once told me, Jack, that your mother used to draw also. Perhaps you could clarify it for us and then away you go waxing philosophical which I always find fascinating ’cause I never even wax my kitchen floor.
Jack Kirby: No, I’m not gonna wax philosophical right off the bat but I can tell you my mother was marvelous story teller. The immigrants who, who came to the United States were, were all story tellers because they, they came from a storytelling heritage.
Robert Knight: Back in the **** Europe.
Jack Kirby: Yes. The, the immigrants were, you know, they were all either former peasants or former royalty. And they all had stories to tell and they, and naturally coming from different countries, this was their format for getting acquainted.
Robert Knight: While we’re in the early days, Jack, I’d like to go to one of the things that you worked on with which I have been most impressed and that is back with Max Fleischer and the, he is known, of course, among other things for the Betty Boop cartoons. And you worked with him in the animation of those, did you not?
Jack Kirby: Yes, I did.
Robert Knight: What did you do?
Jack Kirby: I, I was an animator. I, I certainly didn’t hold any position of importance. I remember the managing editor was a fellow called Seymour Nitell, and I, I, I possibly saw Mr. Fleischer just once. I think I saw Dave Fleischer.
Robert Knight: Well, one of the things that you, you were is I believe what was called an in-betweener, and that’s someone who makes the panels of, of each frame of a cartoon move smoothly from one to the other or at least one of your applications for the job involved doing that.
Jack Kirby: Yes, it did. And in those days, to make a figure take one step took 16 pictures, and my job was to draw, well, one of the many in-between steps, and that’s why I was called an in-betweener.
Robert Knight: Well, one of the most remarkable cartoons to come out of the Betty Boop series at least to my mind is, well, there were several of them, that seemed to almost combine live motion and animation. And I’m thinking of one in particular, one that involved the music Cab Calloway, and I forget whether it was Saint James Infirmary or the Hidey Ho song, but it was a cartoon that involved the singer’s motion across the stage in a backwards way that was exactly the moonwalk step that is now so famous in the feet of Michael Jackson. And so would this be the kind of thing that you were involved in doing?
Jack Kirby: Well, you’re describing, you’re describing a, an entire story involvement and I was never subject to any story telling sessions. My job was a particularly a poor one and a poorly paid one and I, I just did as I was told and therefore I, I considered it, well, on a level with a factory job.
Robert Knight: Well, for so distinguished a career, the start cannot be as humble as you said, but where did you go from there?
Warren Reese: There was something important about that that he should comment on. Jack, I know that you have said, though, in the past that your work doing that gave you an appreciation of the figure in motion, the grace of the human body moving. Am I correct, Jack?
Jack Kirby: Well, it added to what I already felt strongly about. I love people, I love, I love nature. I love that things that nature produces. And therefore I, I believe, I believe in it strongly and I try to mirror all that in my work. I never contrive phony design or phony anatomy. I, I draw people as I see them. I’m not involved in making artistic masterpieces. My, my object is to mirror people and I’ve always done that. Believe me, there have been occasions when I’ve had to face severe criticism of my figure anatomy. And I’ve faced those down with the, with the knowledge that my, my object in drawing was not to get the anatomy perfect but to mirror the people themselves. And I believe I accomplished that.
Robert Knight: There is something striking about the anatomies that, that I certainly remember is your various works, and that is a very strong sense of perspective along the very frame of the body. You’ll see a magnificent chest in the foreground trailing off into almost pointed feet, in, you know, at a greater distance. And I think that, that sense of perspective and body form is, is something characteristic of your work.
Jack Kirby: No, it’s characteristic of me. And it’s how I, it’s how I perceive things.
Warren Reese: Do you have a big chest with little bitty feet?
Jack Kirby: No, but it’s, it’s how I, it’s how I personally–it’s how I personally perceive the world itself.
Warren Reese: Well, you in effect, Jack, I would say had to reinvent the human figure, possibly because of the speed with which you had to work in the early days, and we have a few more questions for you about some of your favorite people from the early days. Now, after you did your work as a, an editorial cartoonist and probably practically running the place for the Lincoln Feature Syndicate, you connected with Jerry Eiger and did Wilton of the West for him. How did you come to connect with Jerry and I understand in the Eiger shop you got to know Bob Kane and Lou Fine and I’m sure fans of the Golden Age would like to know some of your reminiscences about that.
Jack Kirby: Yes, I did. I got to know well Will Eisner as well as Jerry Eiger, and I believe they were partners at the time, and the others were working with me as, as fellow artists.
Warren Reese: How did it feel at the time? What do you remember about working with those people and the feel of this, you know, comics industry aborning?
Jack Kirby: Remember, I was a, I was a very young man at the time.
Warren Reese: Yes, about 17, weren’t you?
Jack Kirby: Yes, I’m sorry. I was in my 20s. And the people working with me were fellows of the same age, and some of the people I worked for were, weren’t much older than myself. Comics, comics were just evolving. Remember, it takes time for anything to evolve into a form where it’s accepted internationally.
Warren Reese: Yes. Now, also in the early days, I remember your telling me one time, I said that I used to live on Voorhees Avenue in Brooklyn, and at 1901 Voorhees Avenue, for ten years, I think until he died in 1934, Windsor McKay, the creator of Little Nemo and Slumberland and Dirty the Dinosaur, one of the first animated cartoons, lived there, and you told me that you knew Mr. McKay and Windsor McKay, Jr. and I thought you might have some reminiscence of that.
Jack Kirby: Well, that was quite a long time ago, but I, I have a, you know, I remember it, not, not too clearly but I, but I knew Windsor McKay, Jr. certainly and I knew of his father who I admired greatly.
Warren Reese: Did you visit them at home or did you know them from work?
Jack Kirby: I, I was too humble a person to get to that stage.
Warren Reese: Oh.
Jack Kirby: You must remember the tenor of the times. They were more rigid and stricter than, than, than they are today, of course.
Robert Knight: You mean, in social customs, or how do you mean that?
Jack Kirby: Well, social customs. There was even professionally. The editor was an almighty figure and the artist was a humble figure and it was not quite a caste system but it, it was a system that, that was evolving.
Robert Knight: That’s, specifically what I’m interested in and what is so remarkable about your career in terms of the state of the comics art now and the way that it was then. It would appear to me that at that time, creative personnel were subservient to the corporate entity; that is to say, not all artists and writers have been able to receive rewards commensurate with their work. We know of the, of the famous case of the creators of Superman, for instance, and with DC Comics. Now, of course, at that company and, and Marvel and others, there is more equity for the artist in terms of royalties or residual incomes from their work. But it would seem that you were in a very pivotal period in the history, particularly with the, with Stan Lee and the Marvel days in changing that industry.
Warren Reese: And Joe Simon, I believe Jack, had a lot to do with that because as I understand it, he became sort of the business liaison between yourself and the publishers, so perhaps you can clarify all that for us now.
Jack Kirby: Joe Simon was a, was a little older and a lot taller than I was, and Joe Simon made an impression on that rigid system and I became Joe Simon’s partner because, well, Joe Simon was a, was a marvelous entrée into the field and all of us were not only friends, but we were learning from each other and Joe, Joe was certainly someone, someone whose type was new to me and he was not only a good friend but he opened up the world to me, and I began to see different types of, different types of people, different types of systems. And I, I, I began to know new types of friends. And it was, Joe who is actually, Joe was, well, he was just a wonderful symbol to me of a class that I’d never seen.
Warren Reese: Now, some of your early work, I believe you did Blue Bolt, right?
Jack Kirby: Yes.
Warren Reese: And the Blue Beetle newspaper strip.
Jack Kirby: That’s right.
Warren Reese: And ultimately you’ve come to Timely to the Goodman family –
Jack Kirby: Yes.
Warren Reese: And you worked on Marvel science stories at first, their pulp magazine. What brought you to Timely, how did you become involved, what are some of your early memories of your work. I know you did the cover of Marvel Mystery No. 12, a picture of the angel in I think October 1940 which I believe was your first comic book work for them, then you did the Red Raven, of course, for August 1940, the Vision in Marvel Mystery No. 13 for November 1940, and then ultimately Captain America. Your comments, please, your memories, Jack?
Jack Kirby: Well, my memories are of, of being with–remember, I, it was–I was still in a partnership with Joe and Joe and the Goodmans were very good friends. And therefore I, in those days it was, it, it seemed to be the, you know, it just seemed to be part of the system where you follow the people who know the people, and of course, today the, the lines are, are happily looser and, and they’re, you know, they’re thoroughly, they’re thoroughly much–you can achieve much more under today’s system than you could then. And so you did best you could. You, you found ways of working yourself into the field, and Joe Simon was a wonderful partner in that respect because he could, he had a wonderful business sense and he knew a lot more about business than I did.
Robert Knight: If it’s not indiscreet, Jack, I’d like to ask if you can recollect any particular turning point or periods of transition from the artist as humble and under-rewarded worker to the point where you became appropriately something of an executive in the field.
Jack Kirby: Well, that was a matter of learning. That was a matter of learning, learning it not only professionally but socially. Remember the field was like that. And you had to become socially acceptable as well as professionally acceptable.
Warren Reese: What does that mean, socially acceptable?
Jack Kirby: Well, it wasn’t a matter of being a good or a mediocre artist. It was a matter of social standing. It was a matter of being accepted by a family, and the families were the ones that were running the comic field then. The Goodman family, well, was running Timely. And the Lebowitz family was running –
Warren Reese: DC.
Jack Kirby: – DC as well as the other–there was another family involved.
Robert Knight: Well, what kind of, of terms does an artist or a writer receive now that, that was not possible before?
Jack Kirby: Well, you can make your own deal now. Whatever you have in mind, you can certainly get. If you’re the type of man they want, or if you’re the type of man, well, there’s a different type of orientation now which I think is so helpful to us. And we can understand each other a lot better.
Warren Reese: Jack, we’re playing ping pong with your brain here. Robert is straining at the reins to ask you those wonderful questions, the social questions of the business –
Jack Kirby: Yes.
Warren Reese: And I’ve been grinding away at the old books to ask you all the things that other people, you know, might want to know about the old stuff or else could not even think to ask ’cause they don’t have access to them right now, although I’m happy to announce that Marvel, they’re now starting to do deluxe reprints in hardback format on 70-pound coded stock. You’re Fantastic Fours from 1 through 10 are due out in November. X Men 1 through 10 and Amazing Fantasy 15 and Spider-Man 1 through 10, and they are talking about bringing out some of your things from the Golden Age, and I’m hoping that of course everybody will be treated correctly all around. And you and I understand exactly what I mean by that. I’m gonna ask you a few questions about the, the Golden Age stuff, your formative years. We’re gonna work up then into the, the explosion of the ’60s. Is that okay with you?
Jack Kirby: Certainly.
Warren Reese: Fine. Now, chronologically perhaps the first whole book that you handled at Timely was Red Raven which I believe was not one of your favorites but still had some interesting scientific concepts in it. For people who don’t know about the Red Raven, of course, he was a human being adopted by a race of birdlike beings who lived on an antigravitational island somewhere in the sky. Now, of course, antigravity is science fiction. I think there was an antigravitational island in the old Flash Gordon stuff. And then of course also in Red Raven, you had the spaceman, Comet Pearce, who went through space on a solar engine. Now, both of these–now, we already have solar engines, we’re still working on antigravity although I should imagine that Dr. Mitch Iocaku who is on this station ought to have it ready for us in a few weeks. Could you please tell us though what led you to those concepts, Jack?
Jack Kirby: Well, remember science fiction was very new in those days. It had a, it had a limited audience but it was a very, very–to a young mind, it was very, very attractive. I think I, I became, I oriented myself also to looking ahead and I read, I read a lot of science fiction and began to evolve concepts of my own, and I adopted these concepts in comics. And you’ll find that the early comics had them almost universally, were universally based on some kind of science fiction concept. A science fiction concept in those days was extremely attractive and salesworthy, and of course, today, well, these days, they’re certainly acceptable. But in those days, they were daring.
Warren Reese: Especially daring on Suffolk Street where I understand if you would have gotten caught with it, you’d have gotten a clobbering but they’d have straightened out your jacket when they left you at the door for your mother to find.
Jack Kirby: Exactly. It was a rough but a very polite crowd.
Warren Reese: One of the more remarkable contributions to science fiction that you made or attempted to make was with Starman Zero which you proposed as a newspaper strip in 1947. And the outfit that you proposed for the, for the space traveler in this is virtually identical to the, the uniforms that are worn by NASA personnel at this time, including for instance, cross bars on the helmet which you describe as actually being gun sights with calibration marks on the glass helmet. Well, as you know, Jack, now there are helmets with motion sensors and infrared detectors that look at where the eye is focusing and that are used for targeting systems. Something like that was described in the film Blue Thunder. And so for that kind of scientific prediction through the form of science fiction back in 1947, 40 years ago, that indicates a remarkable insight. So where did you major in engineering?
Jack Kirby: I never majored in engineering.
Robert Knight: How did you get your ideas, in other words?
Warren Reese: Fess up, Jack.
Jack Kirby: I’ve, I’ve always done what had to be done. Always done what had to be done. In time when they did manufacture space suits, these kind of things had to be done and they went ahead and, and finished them in a very practical sense, and they’re still evolving today.
Warren Reese: A follow-up question on that, Jack. We’re getting out of sequence but it’s a lot of fun. In Astonishing No. 56 which you did at Atlas in December 1956, you did a wonderful little Twilight Zone-type story called Afraid to Dream. And in it you have a monster whose colors were of the spectrum where the human eye could not pick them up, therefore invisible, and whose eyes only were visible. This character seems remarkably like Blue Eyes, one of the characters you had proposed for Starman Zero. Was this your way of using this idea that had previously been set aside?
Jack Kirby: Well, no. It’s an idea that always floats around in your mind. It’s, it’s something that you play with and it’s something that you can play with in, in many ways, and it’s a way of testing your own mind. It’s a way of testing your own creativity. One idea isn’t certainly the ultimate idea. I’m not fool enough to think that I can come up with the ultimate idea. And so I’ll take one idea and use it in many different ways knowing full well that the idea itself still has a wide range of, of use.
Warren Reese: Well, even though we’re out of sequence, the remarkable thing about the human mind is its ability to process information in parallel so while we’re on the subject of science fiction, I can’t pass the chance to ask you what your visions of the field are today in terms of what could be possible tomorrow?
Jack Kirby: If I, I always try to look 30 to 50 years ahead, I always have. And I can tell you that today I’m–I think I’m content to just not think about that kind of thing. And leave it to younger and fresher minds and I–in doing comics, I’ve grown up I think as a human being and I’m content to stay at the level where I am today.
Robert Knight: This is Earth Watch on WBAI in New York. My name is Robert Knight. I’m joined in the studio by Warren Reese and by telephone with Jack Kirby.
Warren Reese: Okay, Jack, I’m going to get out of sequence a bit and follow up on what Robert was saying. Jack, you told me a wonderful, wonderful story about how you do what you do, and it tied into an experience you had in the war. Do you recall the story I mean?
Jack Kirby: Oh, the, the white tape?
Warren Reese: I don’t know about the white tape. Without springing the whole thing away, I’ll try to refresh your memory a bit. I had asked you, Jack, how do you do what you do and you and your normally modest way, not wishing to impose your standards or techniques on anyone else, you replied to me, it’s done by privilege. Then you told me a story of something that happened to you in the war where a man had gotten killed and what that got you to thinking about.
Jack Kirby: Yes, and it got me to think how valuable human beings are and at that moment I, I discovered my own humanity. I discovered everybody–in that moment, I discovered everybody else’s. And when a man asked me, and the man was hit and he asked me what happened, I, I can only answer him, it was a man, it was man who was slipping away, and I said, you happened because to me, humanity is extremely important. And I couldn’t say anything else, and I, I–as a human being, I tried to say, to tell this man what I really felt. And that’s what I felt. I felt that he had happened and that was the most important event in the world, for him.
Warren Reese: And following up on that, though, you told me, you said that it got you to thinking what really happened. You said to me that they feed us a bunch of facts, a bunch of bull. What in books and school, what do all these facts mean. And you said it got you to thinking what really happened, and your words to me were, did the Lord send angels in night shirts with feathered wings all over the universe to spread His message, and you didn’t think that that’s exactly the way it happened. You said did Joshua knock down the walls with 60 trumpets. What really happened. And it seemed to me that you had concluded that by people like this dying, it bought the rest of us, including you, the master, the time to sit at a drawing board in a leisurely way and speculate on the nature of the universe and humanity as to what really happened and what is really happening. Did I draw the right conclusion there, Jack?
Jack Kirby: You did, and I can, I can tell you that that was part of it, and I’m still trying to figure out what happened. I know I never will. I don’t know if anybody else will. But I think it’s, it makes living, it makes our lives–the very question itself makes our lives interesting. And I think that none of us really have the final conclusion. It’s just a, just a personal opinion. And I think living with questions, I think is a lot more interesting than living with answers. So I think we all live with questions and it makes the world a lot more interesting for us.
Warren Reese: Okay. Robert says I may ask you another one. Let’s zip along a little bit with the Golden Age. You did Captain Daring and Daring Mystery No. 7 which was a story about a guy under the earth, and the character seemed very similar, both the character and his girlfriend, to Comet Pearce and Red Raven. Similarly, Mercury and the 20th Century which you did in Red Raven was very similar in appearance and powers to Hurricane which was the backup feature in Captain America. Can you comment, please, on the similarity, how do we fit these two sets of characters into the grand scheme of the comics universe, and was really one essentially a continuation of the other, Jack?
Jack Kirby: It, like I say, comics is a personal view and certainly, remember my comics were done at different periods and I, I can only think in an individual way. And what comes out of me at certain times is completely individual. What you’re reading is Jack Kirby. What you’re looking at is Jack Kirby. And if it’s, if, you know, it can be no one–it can be no one else. My style is personal, my style of writing is personal, and I believe in that. I believe what comes out of me is an individual thing, and that’s why I, I believe in the individual. I know that whatever you write, I will recognize. I will recognize it because you wrote it.
Warren Reese: Well, I mean to say, though, since Red Raven only went for one issue and then you segued more or less into Captain America, was that your way of more or less continuing the character? I just wanted to know about the name change really from Mercury to Hurricane.
Jack Kirby: Mercury and Hurricane are essentially a, a phrase that signifies some kind of hurried motion.
Warren Reese: Mm hmm.
Jack Kirby: And if we think of hurried motion, we’re either gonna think of mercury or storm or hurricane or tornado, a big wind or an element of that kind. And it all begins with motion. I believe in motion. I believe that essentially motion is life and it’s my way of portraying it.
Warren Reese: You know that we’re gonna talk about Captain America for at least a couple of minutes, don’t you?
Jack Kirby: If you will–if you want to, I’m at your service.
Warren Reese: Thank you, Jack. Okay. Now, the origin of Captain America, you’ve discussed many times as he was the man for the times. But the way you handled how he became Cap was most interesting. The way Steve Rogers got this apparently potent endocrine chemical preparation that speeded up his metabolism and developed every cell in his body, etc. What inspired you to that? Robert here is a great expert in science and I’m sure he would be interested in discussing with you the, the scientific background for that. How did you do that, Jack?
Jack Kirby: Well, remember chemistry was a, was a subject of mystery certainly to a, a fellow like myself. I hadn’t majored in chemistry although I took it in school.
Warren Reese: Mm hmm.
Jack Kirby: I just skirted the subject. And like anything that was a mystery to me, was fertile ground for story telling, therefore in a chemical way I was able to originate or I helped to originate–remember Joe Simon was in on this with me –
Warren Reese: Yes.
Jack Kirby: And we both originated Captain America. We talked it over and we decided to do it in a chemical manner.
Warren Reese: Mm hmm.
Jack Kirby: ‘Cause chemistry at that time was about as mysterious as, oh, as electricity still is. And remember we had, there was very little thought given to electronics, so it was not a, it was, it was a scientific age that was just beginning.
Warren Reese: And when you revised his origin, by the way, you managed to stick in some electronics, the thing about the Vita Rays which I would gather, Robert, you know a little bit about Einsteinian physics, energy to matter conversions to give Steve Rogers some mass while that chemical was speeding up his metabolism.
Robert Knight: Well, that’s, that’s theoretically plausible.
Jack Kirby: Well, also remember that I, I was doing a lot of reading and a lot of research. There was a story in Captain America which had an atom bomb and that story was done in ’41.
Warren Reese: Which one was that, Jack? I don’t recall it.
Jack Kirby: Well, I, I forget the individual story myself. I forget the name of the story. But I, I remember doing it because a fellow named–I saw an article on the paper where a fellow named Nikola Tesla –
Warren Reese: Yes.
Robert Knight: Oh, a most remarkable being.
Warren Reese: Go ahead, Jack, tell us, tell people about Tesla, go ahead.
Jack Kirby: All right ****
Warren Reese: **** bill.
Jack Kirby: Well, I didn’t **** that way. But in a much more magical way.
Warren Reese: Yes.
Jack Kirby: And it became an atom bomb to me.
Robert Knight: That’s thoroughly remarkable because the first sustained nuclear chain reaction did not occur until 1942 at Fermi Lab in Chicago, and this is at a time that the Manhattan Project was underway, so was any governmental interest evidenced in regard to the publication of that story?
Jack Kirby: I don’t remember quite well, but I, I think I got a letter in relation to that and I –
Warren Reese: That may be why I never saw the story, Jack, ’cause I’ve been through your 1941 Caps and not meaning to contradict the master, a story about an atomic bomb never saw print, so maybe we have an interesting little why it never got into the book story.
Robert Knight: You say, you say you got a little letter?
Jack Kirby: I, I –
Robert Knight: Tell me about that, what you can remember.
Jack Kirby: Oh, I really don’t remember, but I think we got a lot of mail, Joe and I, and I think there was a letter in regard to this thing and that was all there was to it, really.
Robert Knight: Mm hmm.
Jack Kirby: It was a fanciful, you know, it was a fanciful jump that made a great story.
Warren Reese: There were the threatening letters you told me about, Jack.
Jack Kirby: I got a lot of threatening letters. I got letters from the Nazis.
Warren Reese: What could you have possibly done to upset the Nazis?
Jack Kirby: Well, I put Hitler on a comic book cover.
Warren Reese: Darn right, with Cap socking ’em in the jaw, right on the cover of No. 1 and about to do the same on the cover of No. 2.
Jack Kirby: Oh, yes, and Hitler made a wonderful villain.
Warren Reese: Didn’t he!
Jack Kirby: And of course my only object was sales and there was a big response on that. Hitler was a subject in all the newspapers, as you can well imagine. And doing everything that was of news essence and would appeal to the public, why, I believe I was the first to use Hitler on a cover.
Robert Knight: There were two characters at the time who took a role in terms of the war effort and so on, Captain America, of course, and the other being Superman, both representing, I guess if I dare use these words, truth, justice and the American way.
Warren Reese: Submariner and the Torch too for sure.
Robert Knight: Mm hmm. Well, let’s just look at these two, Superman and Cap, and there seemed to me to be some very basic differences in terms of mood or attitude between the two. Would you agree with that, and if so, what are they?
Jack Kirby: You mean the differences in the character?
Robert Knight: Mm hmm.
Jack Kirby: Well, remember, one character was very–well, Superman has always been a rather, very dignified conventional character, I believe, as far as super hero goes. But you’ll find that Captain America was, well, he was rambunctious, he was, he was willing to fight anybody in sight, and reflected, reflected a different area of society. He reflected, well, if you ask your father, if you ask your own father and if he came from a large city, he would understand Captain America very well. He would, Captain America reflected the type of people I knew and saw. And –
Robert Knight: He was not without problems.
Jack Kirby: He was always with problems because people always are and Captain America resolved them as, well, he resolved my problems. If I was in a fight with 25 men, I had to resolve my own situation. What would I do in a fight with 25 men. And I had to get away with it too. I knew that in real life I would be smeared but on that comic page, I had to beat those 25 men and I choreographed that page so it would resolve itself in the right manner.
Robert Knight: I’d like to–before we resume the thread of chronological continuity, I’d like to reflect on this with a previous statement that you made; that is to say, that your art is Jack Kirby. If it’s successful, it’s because it’s Jack Kirby and so on. And at the same time, there is a, some people would say an influence that the publications have. Others might say a resonance with some spirit or aspiration in the children and adults that are reading them and so on. And I’m wondering to what degree you consciously tempered or brought out things in your writing and art to establish some kind of moral base or to point out things that you thought were ethically important?
Jack Kirby: Well, I, I wasn’t establishing contact on a, oh, I always felt that–remember, the period was a black-and-white period. The year that I–the years in which I was a young man. A hero was a hero and a villain was a, an evil man. And therefore I had to resolve it in a black-and-white manner. And I did. And you’ll find that that kind of thing will bring–it’s not sophisticated in the kind of sense that we see things today. It was, it was all black and white. Everything was either evil or it was good and therefore the stories had that kind of, well, it’s a kind of a basic power and it came across to the reader.
Robert Knight: Well, later on, I’m, I’m going to ask you about the hazes of grey that exist in the comics of today, but let’s get back on track. Warren?
Warren Reese: Yeah, thank you. Of course, though even then, Jack, again not meaning to contradict you. Of course your had Bill Everett doing the Submariner who couldn’t quite make up his mind if he were a hero or a villain and when the Human Torch first started off in Marvel Mystery Comics, the world’s first android was very much considered outside the law until perhaps Marvel Mystery No. 7 where his undercover cop friend, Johnson, helped him become a member of the police force and ultimately led to that titanic crossover with the Submariner. But I’d like to get back to Cap and to black and white and good and evil –
Jack Kirby: Yes.
Warren Reese: – and how better to exemplify that than to talk about the quintessential antagonist for Cap, the Red Skull. Now of course the Red Skull first appeared without an origin. You gave him an origin later on I think in Tales of Suspense No. 66 in 1965, if I’m not mistaken although someone out there with a Marvel index will probably find out that I’m off an issue. Talk please about the Red Skull vis a vis Captain America, if you will, Jack, and why you first started him off without an origin and then of course eventually over the years developed the concept that there had been in fact the kind of decoy Red Skull that George Max on the first Red Skull was not the real guy. And of course your wonderful story about the, the giant drill with the Red Skull on it that came up in the middle of Ebbets Field and wrecked it. I know you were a Dodgers fan.
Jack Kirby: Yes, I was. I was a–I wasn’t a rabid baseball fan but I went to the games often with friends. And I loved the Dodgers because, well, they’ll always be a colorful team for me. That’s a personal thing, of course. As for the Red Skull, I was growing up. It was a period when I was growing up and I finally asked myself why am I making this Red Skull so evil. Why is he such a bad guy. And I felt there was a story behind that, behind the Red Skull, and I began to think of him as a person.
Warren Reese: Mm hmm.
Jack Kirby: And remember in my early years, he was merely just a villain.
Warren Reese: He had no origin at first. You gave him characterization, a deeper characterization in the ’60s.
Jack Kirby: Well, I gave him deeper characterization because, well, I, I was growing up and questioning myself, and remember, I’m, I’m a child of my own times.
Warren Reese: Yes.
Jack Kirby: I was questioning my own times.
Robert Knight: One of the, just as a footnote, one of the objects–one of the grails, you might say, in Captain America and the Red Skull during the ’60s was an object called the Cosmic Cube, and I’m sure you must be aware, hopefully with some pride, that now in the field of artificial intelligence and parallel computer processing and new approaches to computing that one of the new computing devices that is based on massive parallel structure is called the Cosmic Cube.
Jack Kirby: Well, I mean, it flatters me for you to make the connection, but however, I’m sure it’s a, it’s a technical term today whereas yesterday as far as, you know, where story telling is concerned, it was a–I think a wonderful keystone for many, many good stories. So I used the Cosmic Cube as I, I would use any other gimmick on which to base five or six stories or maybe more. The Cosmic Cube to me was certainly a part of the mystery which we’re still trying to solve. What is there out in space and then the many other questions that come with it. Are we the only form of life? If there is life out there, what, what kind of life will we find? And the Cosmic Cube is that clue, is that little clue maybe left behind in the human mind. Somewhere in the human mind, that question is important. And it was important for me because, well, I was doing that sort of thing so it became important to me and therefore I created the Cosmic Cube probably–it was material from the same fountainhead from which I was asking questions.
Robert Knight: Speaking of cosmic parallo pipeheads, this is Earth Watch on WBAI in New York. My name is Robert Knight, here with Warren Reese celebrating the 70th birthday of Jack Kirby, live on this air. Also with us in the studio is the **** of the Golden Age of radio here, Max Schmeid.
Max Schmeid: Hi, Jack. Hello. I’ve been sitting in on this conversation and one or two questions have occurred to me. We’re discussing now the war years of the, of the ’40s –
Jack Kirby: Yes.
Max Schmeid: – and you’ve been saying that you write very often to explore your own feelings and thoughts about things. But what market did you feel you were writing for? We consider today or the general thought is that comic books are for children. Was that the thought at the time? Did you feel you were writing basically for a children’s audience?
Jack Kirby: Oh, that was not true at all. I was writing for everybody. I was exploring everybody. I wanted to know about everybody. And I’m still doing that today. I, as I said before, people were always important to me. I wanted to know more about them. And in creating those stories, I was exploring people and I was exploring the questions that people ask. I was exploring my own self in reality. And I’m still doing that today.
Warren Reese: We’ve got some follow-ups on that in a minute specifically about your years doing the science fiction stories about the aliens. But I just had a couple more quickies about your work on Cap. When you did the covers of Captain America No. 7 and Young Allies No. 1, I have line art from house ads that show that they were redone. The changes that were made on the cover of the Young Allies made sense. The Allies characters were made larger and Joe Stalin was omitted from the cover presumably because the non-aggression pact with Hitler fell through and he became one of the allies. But on the cover of Captain America No. 7, which prominently featured the Red Skull on the inside, the figure of the Red Skull cutting a spiked ball down over Betty Ross was changed on the cover to look like an ordinary Nazi. That’s always been a mystery to me and I was wondering if you could clarify anything about that, Jack.
Jack Kirby: Well, I, I, I can’t recall the, you know, that particular issue in my, you know, I can’t recall it well today. I, you know, I, I’d have to take more time than you give me to, to define it, however, I can, I can tell you that whatever I drew there made sense to me at the time and they reflected the times. And what I, you know, I can’t recall the particular story, however, if I drew Betsy Ross doing that, it was, it was an essential part of that story and, and something to keep the reader interested, and never meant, you know, it, it never meant anything more than that.
Warren Reese: Let’s just flip up there, I notice the early Caps from 1941 and ’42 smacked of your influences of film. The characters and the stories seemed to be involved often with movie making or using projection techniques, but I also noted that some of the costuming, for example, in one story that you did with Ivan the Terrible, very authentically Russian. Were you influence by any of Sergei Eisenstein’s films like Alexander Nefsky–how, and just the overall use of film-type characters in Captain America. The Phantom Hound of Cardiff Moor which was like Hound of the Baskervilles. The Hunchback of Hollywood. All these things.
Jack Kirby: Well, I can tell you that you said it all for me. I’m a movie, I always was and I always will be a movie goer, essentially what I’ve always done was a kind of a still movie. And, and it was the reason I, I dropped editorial cartoons to do comic strips because comic strips gave me more room to do a movie. And when the comic strips became limited, I did comic books because they gave me more room to do a movie, and I suppose I, I’m probably the type that will probably work on an endless movie which I’ll never finish, I suppose. But essentially that’s what I’ve always tried to do. I tried to, from my very early years, I’ve been an inveterate movie goer and still am and I, I love the medium. So what I, what I draw and what I’m still doing, is part of that particular orientation.
Warren Reese: Also in that time, in Captain America No. 7, you had a villain who was called the Toad in the story, wore a bat-like costume but I caught something on the contents page, Jack, and he was called a Bat there. Was anybody worrying about troubles with the Batman people at the time?
Jack Kirby: Everybody was always worrying about something, I can tell you. And I, I never tried to get too close or, you know, get too close to anybody’s costume.
Warren Reese: Uh-huh.
Jack Kirby: However, I tried to do the kind of character that was being done at the time. Remember, at that time everybody was thinking alike. Super heroes resembled each other in one way or another.
Warren Reese: Yeah.
Jack Kirby: However, we did our best to make them as different as possible.
Warren Reese: Up to the foundations of the ’60s, around 1959 you started doing a lot of these wonderful stories about monsters which I found coincided with the release of a lot of the classics on Channel 9 here in New York, King Kong, Son of Kong, Godzilla. And then you got into these, some of my favorite things were about these aliens, for example, the Electronic Giant, the Blip, who was really a benevolent alien enraged by human savagery. Please comment, Jack on your use of the Monster and of course the Monster is the either the benevolent being or else the misunderstood monster which is the foundation of the Hulk and the Thing and characters with which the public is all the more familiar today.
Jack Kirby: Well, I don’t think that monsters are ever mysterious. Monsters in human or inhuman form are, are living, are living things with problems which vex them sorely in some way, and therefore they’re inevitably involved in some sort of conflict which, in which anybody can get hurt. I don’t think monsters zero in on any one in particular, and I think that’s why they are generally pitied more than feared, and I felt the same way about them. I felt that monsters in some way have problems.
Warren Reese: Yes. Let’s get right into the Marvel days now and the Fantastic Four. The powers of the Fantastic Four with which everyone is already familiar seemed to be reflections of the personalities of each of them. Would this be some manifestation how the mind that held them together during cosmic accident that should have disintegrated them, subconsciously guided the instability of their cells, their molecules to produce this monster that was the gruff ****, this totally flexible man who had the totally flexible mind. This hot-headed teenager who literally becomes, you know, a hot head, and in the pre-women’s lib days, the defensive female who had the invisibility to hide and then later the invisible barrier. Were these manifestations of the personalities, Jack?
Jack Kirby: Well, I think they were manifestations of my own, and they were manifestations of the times. Remember, these were–we were absorbed with the, the possible and catastrophic results of radiation. Remember, we didn’t know what, how radiation would affect anybody and, and being involved in the sale of comics, I used it, I used it in that manner, to sell comic books. And I used it in as entertaining way as possible. Psychologically, whatever the characters, whatever characters emerged or were possibly the way I, I personally would imagine them.
Warren Reese: Yeah, for example, Dr. Doom would seem to show how evil, and indeed even nobility could come out of the mistreatment of a human being, or the Hulk who was the misunderstood monster. Maybe you could talk with us just for a couple of minutes about the, the genesis of the Hulk, of Dr. Doom, of a few of your, you know, gee, everything by you seems like a major creation to me, but you know what I mean. Just talk about –
Jack Kirby: There are Dr. Dooms and Hulks in all of us. And if you read every one of your news stories, if you read any, any dramatic news story, you’ll find there were human beings involved. And you can, you know as well as anybody else that there have been some pretty weird news stories in our times, and yet human beings are involved in them. And when you, and when you dissect the stories themselves, you’ll find that they’re not really dramatic at all, that the most dramatic part about them was that inside a human being, there is some sort of problems that we’re constantly trying to solve. And I felt that my villains as well as my heroes were human beings and therefore could have very bad problems. I had a villain called Dr. Doom and Dr. Doom had a, he had a severe problem. He was a perfectionist, and perfectionists never solve their problems. It’s a belief of my own, that none of us can be perfect, and if you’re a perfectionist, you’ve got them in a conflict which can never be solved.
Robert Knight: This is Earth Watch on WBAI. I’m Robert Knight here in the studio with Warren Reese and with Jack Kirby, live on the phone celebrating his 70th birthday. And now comes the question about one of my favorite Marvel comics, Spider-Man, who was not exactly neurotic but had enough problems to have justifiably been so. How in the world did Spider-Man come into being?
Jack Kirby: Well, if you had been in Spider-Man–Spider-Man was also a creature of radiation. And another version of, of, of that type of situation creating a hero instead of a villain. And so Spider-Man became a hero and he dealt, he dealt with his own conflict in a very heroic manner and he still does today. I think Spider-Man is a, is a lesson for all of us, that no matter what our problem is, it’s our problem and if we make a heroic effort, we could possibly, we possibly may not solve it but we can live with it. And Spider-Man lives with his problem.
Warren Reese: Quick follow-up. Jack, you were involved I know creatively at the genesis of Spider-Man –
Jack Kirby: Yes.
Warren Reese: – and then legend has it that you of course making everything look so much bigger and better and more wonderful than life, Stan wanted him to look like the guy in the street and therefore Steve Ditko did the interiors but I know you, they used some of your covers. Maybe you could clarify for us, although I know how modest you are, try to solve for us without hurting anybody some of the mystery of your involvement at that time in the genesis of Spider-Man and Amazing Fantasy 15 and then of course it departed and went another way. But you were there at the beginning. Please tell us about it, Jack.
Jack Kirby: I can tell you that I was deeply involved with creating Spider-Man. And I can’t go any further than that, really. Because there’ve been so many variations and different things done with Spider-Man. But I can tell you at the beginning I was deeply involved with him.
Robert Knight: Well, let’s turn then to the environment which may be equally as important, the environment out of which Spider-Man was created. And of course you were involved in the historic partnership with Stan Lee at Marvel, and so what was the working environment like there? How was it different from the other companies? What was the Merry Marvel Marching Society like?
Jack Kirby: Well, it wasn’t, it wasn’t, well, I didn’t consider it merry. I considered it very, well, in those days it was, it was a professional type thing. You turned in your ideas and, and you, you got your wages and you took them home. It was a very, very simple affair. I, it’s nothing that could be dramatized or glorified or glamorized in any way. It was a very, very simple affair. I, created the situation and I panelized him, I did him panel by panel and I did everything but put the words in the balloons. But all of it was mine except the words in the balloons.
Warren Reese: But Jack, what about these legendary story conferences of you and Stan or Stan and whomever acting the stories out in the office, jumping up on the desks and so forth, making things considerably more lively than when it was just an office consisting of Stan and fabulous Flo Steinberg having people stick their faces in the door from magazine management going hurry up, little elves, Santa will be coming soon.
Jack Kirby: I’d have to disagree with that. It wasn’t like that at all. It may have been like that after I shut the door and went home.
Robert Knight: Well, listen, we’re gonna open a door, a very special surprise to our Jack and let me mention this is Earth Watch on WBAI in New York. I’m Robert Knight here with Warren Reese and also with Max Schmeid in the studio, and we’re speaking with Jack Kirby live. And now we can announce the very special surprise guest that we have for tonight’s program, your colleague in arms, Stan Lee. Good morning, Stan, are you –
Stan Lee: Hi, how you doing?
Robert Knight: Okay.
Stan Lee: I just, I want to wish Jack a happy birthday. This is a helluva coincidence. I’m in New York and I was tuning in the radio and there I hear him, talking about Marvel and I figured well, I might as well call and not let this occasion go by without saying many happy returns, Jack.
Jack Kirby: Well, Stanley, I want to thank you for calling and I hope you’re in good health and I hope you stay in good health.
Stan Lee: I’m doing my best, and the same to you. You know, you were talking earlier about your drawing and people sometimes criticized your figures and so forth. I, I always felt that the most important thing about your drawings, I remember when I was a kid and I first saw Captain America, it wasn’t the correctness of the anatomy but it was the emotion that you put in. To me, nobody could convey emotion and drama the way you could. I didn’t care if the drawing was all out of whack because that wasn’t important. You got your point across and nobody could ever draw a hero like you could. And I just want to say without getting too saccharin that one of the marks I think of a really true great artist is he has his own style. And you certainly had and still have your own style and it’s a style that nobody has even been able to come close to. And I think that’s something you can be very proud of and I’m proud of you for it.
Jack Kirby: I have to thank you for helping me to keep that style, Stanley, and helping me to evolve all that and I’m certain that whatever we did together, we got sales for Marvel and I –
Stan Lee: I think it was more than that, Jack. We certainly got the sales but whatever we did together and no matter who did what, and I guess that’s something that’ll be argued forever, but I think that the product that was produced was really even more than a sum of its parts. I think there was some slight magic that came into effect when we worked together, and I am very happy that we’ve had that experience.
Jack Kirby: Well, I was never sorry for it, Stanley. It was a great experience for me and certainly if the product was good, that was my satisfaction, and I’ve, I’ve felt like that and I, I think it’s the feeling of every good professional. And it’s one of the reasons I respect you is the fact that, you know, you’re certainly a good professional and, and you’re certainly fond of a good product, and I feel that’s the, that’s the mark of all of us.
Stan Lee: You notice I never interrupt you when you’re saying something nice about me.
Warren Reese: Let me say something nice about Stan Lee. The editorial piston behind the motor of Marvel comics and of course Stan Lee has been active in so many other areas. Stan, what are some of the things that you are proudest of and what are you involved in now?
Stan Lee: Well, actually, I guess I’m proud of just about–I’m the kind of guy I’m proud of everything that has succeeded and I have totally forgotten anything that might have failed. Right now I’m, New World Pictures has bought Marvel Comics and they’re really a great outfit. They’re, obviously they do motion pictures. In fact, they changed their name recently to New World Entertainment. They do television series, video cassettes, and I’ve gotten involved in all of those aspects of the business as well as their animation studio, so I’m only really peripherally involved in the comics and I’ve never been happier because I guess I like being busy and I’ve never been busier.
Warren Reese: And out of the fairness doctrine, what Jack are you currently doing?
Jack Kirby: I’m, I’m probably involved in the same sort of thing.
Warren Reese: Oh, my God, that means that the two of you who indelibly changed the history of comics when you were both in that field have a shot at changing the course of animation perhaps.
Jack Kirby: Well, I feel that productive people are always doing something productive, and speaking for myself I’ve never stopped.
Warren Reese: Well, let me now desaccharinize the conversation and let’s get down to both of your assessments of the state of comics today. I mean, enough can never been said about what you have done in the history of comics, but I’d like for some specific comments, naming of names in regard to the changes that have taken place in comics such with the new, the new, the new approach to Batman, for instance. The, the current Spider-Man series. The introduction of ambiguity, conflict and contradiction in issues and ethics today. What–do you have any views on that?
Stan Lee: Who do you want first?
Warren Reese: You, since you spoke first.
Stan Lee: Okay. Well, actually, I think that we had plenty of conflict and when we were starting our early strips, certainly there was conflict in the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man and all of them. And we had I think really Marvel sort of pioneered playing up the characterization more and playing up the personal problems of the heroes, making the heroes more believable because they were more realistic and more human. However, today what has happened, and it’s a natural evolution, today they’ve gone many steps beyond what we started doing in those days. I think the stories primarily are much more complex, they’re more adult, they tackle subjects that we couldn’t dream of tackling in the early days, and I, I think we were ****. When Marvel started, our stories were very much like the motion pictures of those days. Today, the comics especially I think Marvel comics, are very much like the motion pictures of today. Well, the motion pictures of today are so much different than they were then, and the same change, the same evolvement has really taken place in comic books.
Jack Kirby: Well, I think Stanley is correct on that and of course, the standards have changed, and the standards have changed in all, all the fields. And I’ll agree with, I’ll agree with what Stanley says of all the facets of entertainment because he understands it and he understands it as well as I do. Whatever is evolving, I couldn’t put my finger on it but it’s certainly different from the black-and-white type of thing that we, we did in what you refer to as the Golden Age.
Warren Reese: Are there things that you look at with interest these days?
Stan Lee: Oh, sure. Now there’s a DC series called the Watchman which I think was absolutely superb. There’s the work that John Byrne has been doing, the work that Frank Miller has been doing. There are so many new artists coming up that are, they’re very sophisticated and they’re very dramatic and they’re very cinematic. A lot of them write and draw, they have their own styles. And my big regret really is I don’t have time to read the books the way I used to.
Jack Kirby: Yeah, but the younger people have absorbed a lot more than we did, Stan.
Stan Lee: They have what?
Jack Kirby: I think that, that’s what, that’s what it’s all about today.
Stan Lee: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that, Jack.
Jack Kirby: Their understanding of life and they’re a lot more understanding of themselves and what they produce, what they produce is on a very realistic scale. And I don’t think there is anything visually around us that the younger people haven’t noticed. That’s why I respect the younger people.
Stan Lee: You know, it’s much more a visual era that we live in now than it was when we were starting because with television today, I mean, you know, as a matter of fact, I don’t know if anybody has brought this up but comics are like the last bastion, the last defense against creeping illiteracy. If not for comics, I don’t know how many young people there would be who just wouldn’t ever read because they’re just hooked on television which is understandable, but luckily they do get hooked on comics and they do learn to equate reading with pleasure. And after awhile when they get the reading habit they go on to, to reading other books as kids are wont to do. But I think that which most people don’t think of, but I think that’s a very important function the comics are serving today.
Robert Knight: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby here on Earth Watch. My name is Robert Knight. Also with me is Warren Reese who has some words for you. But I can’t resist just some very quick word associations, or I guess I should say title associations. First, Dark Knight.
Jack Kirby: Dark Knight, I understand is Batman.
Stan Lee: Well, that’s bringing Batman into the 20th Century, I guess, or an attempt to do so. And it was, it was revolutionary and it was very successful.
Jack Kirby: It’s still Batman and it’s–it’s Batman of today.
Stan Lee: I always used to wish, I don’t think I ever told this to Jack, years ago I always used to wish that he and I could do Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. I always thought that we could really inject new life into those characters.
Jack Kirby: Today they would be highly individualistic and very entertaining.
Stan Lee: Yeah, I think so.
Robert Knight: Current Spider-Man.
Stan Lee: The current Spider-Man?
Robert Knight: Mm hmm.
Jack Kirby: The current Spider-Man would be very current. It would be understandably to the people today. It would be, it would have the same essence as, as any other character figure produced in these times. It would have to be timely. You can’t produce super heroes in the old fashion. You’ve got to produce it so it could be understood in, in the surroundings that we have about us today.
Robert Knight: The Nam.
Stan Lee: Great book, great idea. I never would have thought that it would be okay that anybody would say let’s do a comic book about it. I think Marvel deserves a lot of credit for going ahead with it. I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
Robert Knight: I am a producer of a series here called Contragate which is an investigative report into the Iran Contra affair which –
Stan Lee: Produce on radio or television?
Robert Knight: It’s on radio, every day, 8:00 a.m. on WBAI in New York and soon to be heard nationally. Now the, that prompts the next association in which, in a title in which the plot involves CIA involvement in facilitating the importation of drugs for money, for arms for the Contras explicitly. That occurs in Mike Grills current Green Arrow series. Any reactions to that?
Stan Lee: Well, I, I guess Grill is like everybody else. He stays up with the news. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the series. But you know, today, just as Jack and I did years ago, you try to, you try to keep your stories contemporary and if something is happening that you’re involved in or you think the public is involved in, it’s very hard to keep a smattering of that out of what you’re writing.
Robert Knight: All right. Warren Reese is also here with us.
Warren Reese: Thank you, Robert. First of all to both of you gents, I have regards from fabulous Flo Steinberg who is too shy to be in the studio today. She lives about ten blocks from here, but sends happy birthday wishes to you, Jack, and love to both of you.
Stan Lee: Ah, that’s terrific, and the same to her. Fabulous Flo thought it was merry when we were working there.
Warren Reese: Yes, she did. Now, both of you before were talking a bit about the, I think the responsibility of creators as they create. There is much controversy going on these days over company-imposed ratings systems which do not say that people cannot have explicit sex and violence but simply have to have a warning on the cover. And these people seem to be very alarmed as though nobody in history every produced a good story without having that type of material in there, and I submit that they need only look back to what you wonderful gentlemen did together, to what Bill Everett did on the Sub-Mariner, indeed what some other people of contemporary times are doing. I would like your comments on that. I would also like to put to you gentlemen that what made your work so tremendous, you know, I really, when it comes right down to it, it doesn’t matter whether or not, you know, who exactly did what, although it would be interesting to know whether or not Galactus’ exit speech and FF No. 50 was an example of Jack’s dialog or Stan’s, but you –
Stan Lee: Oh, I’ll say this: Every word of dialog in those scripts was mine.
Warren Reese: I don’t want –
Stan Lee: Every story.
Warren Reese: And I don’t want to get into controversy about that. What I want to stress to you and to anyone who would be hearing this is that you two gents together, when you said the whole equals more than the sum of its parts, it is very true. I think that that was the success behind the Beatles, behind the Byrds, behind many of the, the rock groups. There seems to be –
Jack Kirby: I can tell you that I wrote a few lines myself above every panel that I –
Warren Reese: Yes, I’ve seen those –
Stan Lee: They weren’t printed in the books.
Warren Reese: All right, look, both of you, hey, kids, both of you guys –
Stan Lee: **** Jack isn’t wrong by his own rights because Jack, answer me truthfully –
Jack Kirby: I wasn’t allowed to write –
Stan Lee: Did you ever read one of the stories after it was finished? I don’t think you did. I don’t think you ever read one of my stories. I think you were always busy drawing the next one. You never read the book when it was finished.
Jack Kirby: Dialog, Stanley.
Stan Lee: Huh?
Robert Knight: Let me get in there with –
Jack Kirby: I wrote my own dialog. And that, I think that’s the way people are. It was insign (insignificant?).. So whatever was written in them was, well, it, it, you know, it was the action I was interested in.
Stan Lee: I know, and I really think–and look, Jack, nobody has more respect for you than I do, and you know that. But I don’t think you ever felt that the dialog was that important. And I think you felt, well, it doesn’t matter, anybody can put the dialog in, it’s what I’m drawing that matters. And maybe you’re right, I don’t agree with it, but maybe you’re right.
Jack Kirby: No, I–I’m only trying to say is that I, you know, I, I think that the human being is very important. If one man is, is writing and drawing and, and doing a strip, it, it should come from an individual. I believe that you should have the opportunity to do the entire thing yourself.
Warren Reese: Gentlemen, what we’re seeing here –
Jack Kirby: **** your own story.
Warren Reese: – is part of the inner dynamics, the bit of conflict from which obviously you complemented one another, held one another in check and a great product emerged. I submit not only on behalf of you but to creators of today that the success of Marvel and the success of Bill Everett’s Submariner and the success of almost anything that was really great had to do with the attention to science, to characterization, to detail, to verisimilitude, to keeping a greater attention to the characters than to the egos of the people creating them and, you know, signing autographs at conventions. And that that pretense, trying to make the thing seem as real as possible, having characters grow, having characters die, having Reed and Sue get married and have a child whom by the way should be adult by now and dating one of the X Women would not only, is not only showing the attention to the detail of the characters but as an insurance that readers will not outgrow the comics and will stay with them because it is not an immutable fact of life that you outgrow comics at 13.
Stan Lee: You know, when you mention, when you mention an ego problem, the funny thing is, I’m afraid those problems are only cropping up now. I think when Jack and I did the strips, there was no ego problem, we were just doing the best we could at the time.
Robert Knight: Well, ego is the fuel of creativity, and I’m very proud to have been able to have both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee live on Earth Watch on WBAI in New York. My name is Robert Knight joined by Warren Reese and Max Schmeid and as we close this program, I would like each of you to make a concluding statement and first you, Stan, and then you, Jack, because it’s your birthday.
Stan Lee: Okay. Well, since it is Jack’s birthday, I want to make–I wish I had had time to prepare something. I didn’t. But I just want to say that Jack has, I think, made a tremendous mark on American culture if not on world culture, and I think he should be incredibly proud and pleased with himself and I want to wish him all the best, him and his wife Roz and his family, and I hope that ten years from now I’ll be in some town somewhere listening to a tribute to his 80th birthday and I hope I’ll have an opportunity to call at that time and wish him well then too. Jack, I love you.
Jack Kirby: Well, the same here, Stan. But, yeah, thank you very much, Stan. But Warren, are you there?
Warren Reese: Yes, I am, Jack.
Robert Knight: We’re all here.
Jack Kirby: Now, listen, you can understand now how things really were and of course I, I want to thank you for inviting me on your show –
Warren Reese: You can thank Robert and Max for that.
Jack Kirby: Thank everybody for, for their courtesy and it was very pleasant to talk to you.
Warren Reese: Well, I, I must inject this one point of disagreement with you, Jack Kirby. And that is, it is we who have you to thank, you and Stan.
Max Schmeid: Amen for that. Happy birthday, Jack, and thank you Stan.
Jack Kirby: Thank you, guys, you’re really great and if I said anymore it would be –
Robert Knight: You’d be looking at left field and the–the right field, excuse me, and surprises come from left field.
Jack Kirby: Oh, listen, you guys are wonderful.
Robert Knight: All right. Thank you both.
Jack Kirby: Thank you for –
Robert Knight: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on Earth Watch.