Showing posts with label Jack Kirby. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jack Kirby. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Catching up with graphic artist Marty Baumann

by Mike Rhode


We're checking in with Arlington's Marty Baumann again on the publication of Toybox Time Machine, his new book from IDW, . We've featured his work in passing a couple of times in the past, and it's been six years since I interviewed him for the Washington City Paper (which sadly is currently for sale in case anyone reading this can afford to buy a newspaper). He's answered my usual questions again, but in new ways, as well as discussing his recent work so I'm running the whole interview here. Honestly, both Marty and I forgot about that interview (an occupational hazard when you know people personally and socially. I've seen him at the Baltimore Comic Con in September and at a flea market last weekend when he bought some Kirby and Kubert comic books). I highly recommend his new book; Marty is one of the cleverest illustrators I know -- as this interview shows.

Marty has provided the following biographic information:

Marty Baumann is an illustrator, graphic artist and production designer. He has contributed to some of the most popular, Oscar-winning animated films of all time.

Marty has worked as an artist at Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios as an illustrator, graphic artist and production designer on such films as “Toy Story 3,” “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia,” “Cars 2,” “Planes,” “Wreck-It Ralph 2” and many others. He also helped develop theme park installations, toy packaging and Pixar corporate branding.

Marty has rendered illustrations and developed characters for toy manufacturers, magazines and newspapers, illustrated children’s books, created logos, info-graphics, broadcast promotions and presentation art for Hasbro, Universal Studios, National Geographic, Scholastic Books, Nickelodeon and many others.

Recent projects include his role as concept artist for the new “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and the visual development of Sir Paul McCartney’s feature film, “High in the Clouds.”
Marty's dog Summer

Marty has been a rhythm and blues singer/guitarist for more than 40 years. He’s shared the stage with Hound Dog Taylor’s Houserockers, Danny Gatton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Fenton Robinson, John Hammond, Johnny Winter and others. Marty’s sold-out CD “Let’s Buzz Awhile” features 13 original blues tunes.

He encourages everyone to adopt at least one dog.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

As far as personal projects: My influences are primarily of mid-century vintage; the logos, designs, signage and draftsmanship, often combining limited color palettes, stylized figures and crazy type treatments. They communicate fun and excitement in a way we don't see today. I tried hard to emulate that aesthetic in my book, "Toybox Time Machine."

As far as film work goes: Logos, title card design, billboards and signage, magazine covers, posters and general production design and just about anything you see in the background or applied to the body of a character.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

I do some pencil roughs, scan them and use primarily Illustrator and a bit of Photoshop. If I'm doing a commission or a personal piece for someone I might print what I've done digitally and finish it with touches of ink.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in Maryland the same year "Invasion of the Saucer Men" hit theaters. Is that specific enough?

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

Jack Kirby comics. He's one of my heroes. It might not show in my style but I started drawing because of him. I've had no formal training.

Who are your influences?

The first books I actually recall buying were Joe Kubert's Sgt. Rock comics. Starting in grade school it was Kirby. Then a friend said, "If you like Kirby, get a load of Steranko -- and I got a load. Then I discovered Ditko, Toth, Meskin. As time went on I became aware of the great magazine, paperback and movie poster illustrators -- James Bingham, Robert McGinnis, James Bama. And then the groundbreaking design work of the UPA cartoons and the logo and title designs of Saul Bass and Paul Julian. Not to mention the great children's book artists, a particular favorite being the great Mel Crawford -- who also worked in comics and fine art.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

Nearly everything! I tell aspiring artists to look at my career path and do the opposite. I wish I'd taken art classes, studied life drawing, studied painting, tried oils, charcoal, etc. I fell under the sway of rhythm and blues and began playing in clubs as a teenager. I was trying to focus on two creative areas. Maybe I should have focused on just one -- but I couldn't! In the end I think they complimented one another.

What work are you best-known for?

I didn't know that I was KNOWN! So I'd have to say my Disney/Pixar work.

What work are you most proud of?

I'll cite this example: I did a TON of work on "Zootopia." My wife and I saw it in a theater packed with kids and they LOVED it. I was kinda proud that I helped in some small way to make those kids happy.

How did you come up with the idea of Toybox Time Machine?

Well, after having one children's book idea after another rejected, I decided to draw whatever the heck I wanted. I love old toys. I have a small collection of old favorites. And I think my real artistic strengths are design, typography and color. I tried to channel the artistic influences mentioned previously and I never had more fun working on a project.

What's the process of conceptualizing and then drawing a toy that never existed?

My wife and I go to lots of estate sales. I buy the stuff nobody else wants: stacks of old magazines, postcards, travel literature. I snap pictures of anything with nifty retro packaging. It seems that in the 1940s and 50s every advertiser employed an illustrator in lieu of using a photo. With inspiration like this the ideas flow.

How did IDW come to publish this?

At the risk of sounding like a name-dropper, Jim Steranko has been something of a mentor since I was a teenager. (When he critiques your work, you KNOW you've been critiqued, and HOW!) He mentioned to IDW that they might want to look at my work, and, as Bogart would say, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

What's your favorite non-existent toy?

That's the one question I'm going to side-step -- because I just don't know! The sci-fi and monster related toys would be near the top of the list. And I love cowboys!

How did you end up working for Pixar?

I had always loved what Pixar was doing. That retro sensibility seemed to be present in everything they turned out. Quite by accident I discovered that they were looking for a Graphic Artist and I sent them some stuff. They called me a couple weeks later, flew me out there, apparently liked me, and within a few weeks, we were living in San Francisco! I know that makes it sound easy, but let me be clear, I paid my dues for years working for newspapers, magazines, ad agencies, toy companies...

How has the experience been?

It's been great -- and also tough. Every artist working there was better than me! So I really had to up my game.

What have you worked on for them?

"Big Hero 6," "Zootopia," "Toy Story 3," "Cars 2," so many shorts that I can't remember them all -- "Hawaiian Vacation," "Small Fry," "Partysaurus Rex". I also worked on installation pieces for Disney resorts and contributed to the development of Cars Land at Disneyland.

What would you like to do or work on in the future?

Well, I worked on the visual development of a film with Paul McCartney. It would be cool to work with Ringo one day!

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

Writer's block? Let me see. I, um, er -- sorry…gimme a minute...I just can't think of anything to write at the moment…

When did you start collecting comics?

Maybe 1961 or 1962, when I first discovered Sgt. Rock and the Kirby monster books. I wouldn't call it "collecting" in the modern sense of the word, i.e. as if a comic book were a precious object to be preserved for posterity to accrue in value. I traded them, rolled them up and stuck 'em in my back pocket to read again later, and sat down with pencil and paper and tried to copy them. I read my favorite ones until the covers came off. Isn't that how they were meant to be used? Then -- a familiar story -- my mom threw a ton of them away.

What do you focus on? Who are your favorite comic book artists?

I guess my big four are Kirby, Kubert, Toth and Steranko. But there are so many -- the great Jack Davis, Ditko, Mort Meskin, Fred Kida, Wally Wood, and the incredibly underrated and versatile Bob Fujitani. The "Hangman" stories he did for MLJ in the mid-1940s are some of my favorites. I love the books Hillman put out in the 40s, ("Air Fighters," "Clue") and the stuff ME (Magazine Enterprises) published in the late 40s and early 50s ("Jet," "The Avenger"). I've often been asked what, in my opinion, are the best comics of all time. Without hesitation I say choose any issue of Fantastic Four from numbers 30-90. Any one of them is better than anything produced since.

How large is your collection?

It's quite modest. I'm no big-time collector. I buy comics I think I can learn from. I have dealers who save their coverless, moldy, brittle, flaking old books for me because they know I love the obscurities, learning the forgotten history of comics and discovering great cartoonists who have been unjustly overlooked. Mike Roy is a favorite, and Tony DiPrieta, and John Cassone, and Mike Suchorsky, etc. etc.

What do you think will be the future of your field?

Do you mean animation or comics-related material? In either case I don't know. What used to be marginal pop-culture interests are big, BIG business now and it's all too complicated for me to understand.

How was your Baltimore Comic Con experience this year? How often have you attended it?

I always have a great time at Baltimore. I was at the very first one! I believe I've been a guest at all of them except for those that I missed when I lived in the Bay Area.

Do you have a website or blog?

www.martybaumann.com 

What's your favorite thing about DC?

That I don't have to commute there.

Least favorite?

The times I DO have had to commute there.

What monument or museum do you like?

Without a doubt Arlington Cemetery. Not only do we have relatives buried there, but it's brimming with history and trivia. For instance: My wife's uncle is buried just a few tombstones away from Lee Marvin -- who is buried right next to Joe Louis! Dashiell Hammett is resting there, and cartoonist Bill Mauldin.

How about a favorite local restaurant?

Caribbean Grill in Arlington, hands down.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Bob Batchelor on the birth of Spider-Man echoed in local 'King Kirby' play currently running

Coincidentally, a press release from Bob Batchelor came through today that ties in strongly with the play King Kirby which is currently running in Greenbelt. The paragraph where Goodman asks for more Westerns (or whatever is selling) is a recurring episode in the play, as is this characterization of Stan Lee. In his upcoming biography of Stan Lee, Batchelor writes about the creation of Marvel's first superhero character, and Jack Kirby's role in it. With his permission, here's info on his book and the excerpt (which, if you think it gives Lee too much credit, bring it up with Bob please).

Fifty-five years ago the Amazing Spider-Man debuted in a comic book series that faced cancellation for low sales. If it weren’t for a stream of fan letters and readers gobbling up the book, one of the world’s most iconic superheroes would have died an untimely death.

T​he story behind Spider-Man’s creation and appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 is a tale filled with intrigue, and more importantly, Stan Lee’s calculated risk. The famed editor and writer deliberately ignored his boss – publisher Martin Goodman – who rejected the character, because “people hate spiders.” Unable to get Spider-Man out of his head, Lee had an origin story printed in AF #15. The overwhelming response and extraordinary sales would transform Marvel from a publishing also-ran to the hippest, hottest publisher on the planet.

Below is a 1,500-word excerpt on Spider-Man’s creation by noted biographer and cultural historian Bob Batchelor, which is excerpted from his new book Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel (published September 15, 2017).

Batchelor, who teaches at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is the author of more than 25 books, including Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel (Rowman & Littlefield, September 2017, adult trade, retail $22.95). Amazon: http://amzn.to/2q4lNYe

A lifelong comic book fan and noted media resource, he has been an editorial consultant for numerous outlets and been quoted in or on BBC Radio World Service, Today.com, Columbus Dispatch, msnbc.com, The Miami Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Dallas Morning News, Taiwan News, Associated Press, The Guardian, and The Washington Post.

Spidey Saves the Day!
By Bob Batchelor


All lean muscles and tautness, a new superhero bursts from the page. Swinging right into the reader’s lap, the hero is masked, only alien-like curved eyes reveal human features, no mouth or nose is visible. His power is alarming: casually holding a ghoulish-looking criminal in one hand, while simultaneously swinging from a hair-thin cord high above the city streets. In the background, tiny figures stand on rooftops, looking on and pointing in what can only be considered outright astonishment.

The superhero is off-center, frozen in a moment, as if a panicked photographer snapped a series of frames. The image captures the speed, almost like flight, with the wind at his back. The hero’s deltoid ripples and leg muscles flex. Some mysterious webbing extends from his elbow to waist. Is this a man or creature from another world?

The answer is actually neither. Looking at the bright yellow dialogue boxes running down the left side of the page, the reader learns the shocking truth. This isn’t a grown man, older and hardened, like Batman or Superman, one an existential nightmare and the other a do-gooder alien. No, this hero is just a self-professed “timid teenager” named Peter Parker. The world, he exclaims, mocks the teen under the mask, but will “marvel” at his newfound “awesome might.”

It is August 1962. Spider-Man is born.

Spider-Man’s debut in a dying comic book called Amazing Fantasy happened because Stan Lee took a calculated risk. He trusted his instincts. Rolling the dice on a new character meant potentially wasting precious hours writing, penciling, and inking a title that might not sell. The business side of the industry constantly clashed with the creative, forcing fast scripting and artwork to go hand-in-hand.

In more than two decades toiling as a writer and editor, Lee watched genres spring to life, and then almost as quickly, readers would turn to something else. War stories gave way to romance titles, which might then ride a wave until monster comics became popular. In an era when a small group of publishers controlled the industry, they kept close watch over each other’s products in hopes of mimicking sales of hot titles or genres.

Lee calls Marvel’s publisher Martin Goodman, “One of the great imitators of all time.” Goodman dictated what Lee wrote after ferreting out tips and leads from golf matches and long lunches with other publishers. If he heard that westerns were selling for a competitor, Goodman would visit Lee, bellowing, “Stan, come up with some Westerns.”[1​] 

This versatility had been Lee’s strength, swiftly writing and plotting many different titles. He often used gimmicks and wordplay, like recycling the gunslinger Rawhide Kid in 1960 and making him into an outlaw or using alliteration, as in Millie the Model.

A conservative executive, Goodman rarely wanted change, which irked Lee. The writer bristled at his boss’s belittling beliefs, explaining, “He felt comics were really only read by very, very young children or stupid adults,” which meant “he didn’t want me to use words of more than two syllables if I could help it…Don’t play up characterization, don’t have too much dialogue, just have a lot of action.” Given the precarious state of publishing companies, which frequently went belly-up, and his long history with Goodman, Lee admits, “It was a job; I had to do what he told me.”[​2​]

Despite being distant relatives and longtime coworkers, the publisher and editor maintained a cool relationship. From Lee’s perspective, “Martin was good at what he did and made a lot of money, but he wasn’t ambitious. He wanted things to stay the way they were.”

Riding the wave of critical success and extraordinary sales of The Fantastic Four, Goodman gave Lee a simple directive: “Come up with some other superheroes.”[3​] The Fantastic Four, however, subtly shifted the relationship. Lee wielded greater authority. He used some of the profit to pay writers and editors more money, which then offloaded some of the pressure.

Launching Spider-Man, however, Lee did more than divert the energy of his staff. He actually defied Goodman.

For months, Lee grappled with the idea of a new superhero with realistic challenges that someone with superpowers would face living in the modern world. The new character would be “a teenager, with all the problems, hang-ups, and angst of any teenager.” Lee came up with the colorful “Spider-Man” name and envisioned a “hard-luck kid” both blessed and cursed by acquiring superhuman strength and the ability to cling to walls, just like a real-life spider.[4​]

Lee recalls pitching Goodman, embellishing the story of Spider-Man’s origin by claiming that he got the idea “watching a fly on the wall while I had been typing.”[​5​] He laid the character out in full: teen, orphan, angst, poor, intelligent, and other traits. Lee thought Spider-Man was a no-brainer, but to his surprise, Goodman hated it and forbade him from offering it as a standalone book.[6​]

The publisher had three complaints: “people hate spiders, so you can’t call a hero ‘Spider-Man’”; no teenager could be a hero “but only be a sidekick”; and a hero had to be heroic, not a pimply, unpopular kid. Irritated, Goodman asked Lee, “Didn’t [he] realize that people hate spiders?”[​7​] Given the litany of criticisms, Lee recalled, “Martin just wouldn’t let me do the book.”[8]

Realizing that he could not completely circumvent his boss, Lee made the executive decision to put Spider-Man on the cover of a series that had previously bombed, called Amazing Fantasy. Readers didn’t like AF, which featured thriller/fantasy stories by Lee and surreal art by Steve Ditko, Marvel’s go-to artist for styling the macabre, surreal, or Dali-esque. It seemed as if there were already two strikes against the teen wonder.

Despite these odds and his boss’s directive, Lee says that he couldn’t let the nerdy superhero go: “I couldn’t get Spider-Man out of my mind.”[9] He worked up a Spider-Man plot and handed it over to Marvel’s top artist, Jack Kirby. Lee figured that no one would care (or maybe even notice) a new character in the last issue of a series that would soon be discontinued.

With Spider-Man, however, Kirby missed the mark. His early sketches turned the teen bookworm into a mini-Superman with all-American good looks, like a budding astronaut or football star. Lee put Ditko on the title. His style was more suited for drawing an offbeat hero.

Ditko nailed Spider-Man, but not the cover art, forcing Lee to commission Kirby for the task, with Ditko inking. Lee could not have been happier with Ditko. He explained: “Steve did a totally brilliant job of bringing my new little arachnid hero to life.”[10] They finished the two-part story and ran it as the lead in AF #15. Revealing both the busy, all-hands state of the company and their low expectations, Lee recalled, “Then, we more or less forgot about him.”[11] As happy as Lee and Ditko were with the collaboration and outcome, there is no way they could have imagined that they were about to spin the comic book world onto a different axis.

The fateful day sales figures finally arrived. Goodman stormed into Lee’s office, as always awash in art boards, drawings, mockups, yellow legal pads, and memos littering the desk.

Goodman beamed, “Stan, remember that Spider-Man idea of yours that I liked so much? Why don’t we turn it into a series?”[​12]

If that wasn’t enough to knock Lee off-kilter, then came the real kicker: Spider-Man was not just a hit, the issue was in fact the fastest-selling comic book of the year, and maybe that decade. Lee recalls that AF skyrocketed to number one.[13]

The new character would be the keystone of Marvel’s superhero-based lineup. More importantly, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man transformed Marvel from a company run by imitating trends into a hot commodity. In March 1963, The Amazing Spider-Man #1 burst onto newsstands.

Fans could not get enough of the teen hero, so Lee and Marvel pushed the limits. Spider-Man appeared in Strange Tales Annual #2 (September 1963), a 72-page crossover between him and the Human Torch. And in Tales to Astonish, which had moved from odd, macabre stories to superheroes, Spidey guest-starred in #57 (July 1964), which focused on Giant-Man and Wasp. When The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 appeared in 1964, with Lee dubbing himself and Ditko “the most talked about team in comics today,” it featured appearances by every Marvel hero, including Thor, Dr. Strange, Captain America, and the X-Men.

Spider-Man now stood at the center of a comic book empire. Stan Lee could not have written a better outcome, even if given the chance.

All this from a risky run in a dying comic book!

______________________________
_

[
​1​
] Mark Lacter, “Stan Lee Marvel Comics Always Searching for a New Story,” Inc., November 2009, 96.
[
​2​
] Don Thrasher, “Stan Lee’s Secret to Success: A Marvel-ous Imagination,” Dayton Daily News, January 21, 2006, sec. E.
[
​3​
] Quoted in ibid.
[
​4​
] Stan Lee and George Mair, Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), 126–27.
[
​5​
] Ibid., 126.
[
​6​
] Roy Thomas, “Stan the Man and Roy the Boy: A Conversation between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas,” in Stan Lee Conversations, ed. Jeff McLaughlin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 141.
[
​7​
] Lee and Mair, Excelsior!, 127.
[
​8​
] Thomas, “Stan the Man,” 141.
[
​9​
] Lee and Mair, Excelsior!, 127.
[
​10​
] Ibid., 128.
[
​11​
] Ibid., 128.
[
​12​
] Ibid., 128.
[
​13​
] Stan Lee, Peter David, and Colleen Doran, Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir (New York: Touchstone, 2015), n.p.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Chat with King Kirby director William Keith Cassidy


By Mike Rhode
Tonight a recent biographical play about comic book creator Jack Kirby will open for a three weekend run in Greenbelt, MD. Coincidentally, this is also the 100th anniversary year of Kirby's birth, and if you're a comic book fan, or love superhero movies, you should lift a glass to Kirby, and go see this play to learn more about him.
In 2014, comic book writer Fred Van Lente and his wife Crystal Skillman had a Kickstarter campaign to fund a staging of their “King Kirby” script.  At the time, they described the project as:
KING KIRBY is a play by the husband-and-wife team of New York Times bestselling comics writer Fred Van Lente and NYIT award-winning playwright Crystal Skillman about the life and times of Jack Kirby, the great comic book artist who created or co-created some of your favorite heroes on the page and screen, Captain America, the Avengers, Thor, Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Iron Man, Young Romance, the New Gods, Darkseid, The Demon… the list goes on and on.
From the Jewish ghetto of New York's Lower East Side to the battlefields of France to the Senate hearings of 1950s, this is a hysterical and heartbreaking story about a man who pours his quintessentially Twentieth Century life into his comics, only to make the fateful mistake that sends him into obscurity while his creations become known to every person on Earth.
Original 2014 production art by Ryan Dunlavey
A real-life "Adventures of Kavalier & Klay", King Kirby asks what happens when an artist doesn't own his own legacy? Can he ever get it back?
King Kirby has been a long-term passion project of Fred's; with Crystal's help, it's down on paper. Now, with your help, we'll bring this astounding true story to life on stage.
The play has been staged several times (in Seattle and NYC) and is now coming to Greenbelt, MD via Off the Quill and William Keith Cassidy’s vision. A few days before the premiere, I talked to Cassidy (who was my daughter’s high school theater teacher and is a friend of mine) about some specifics of his staging.

Mike Rhode: When you cast Lee and Kirby, did you look at their real-life counterparts? Was that an issue for you?

Rehearsal shot of Josh Mooney as Jack Kirby and Erik Harrison as Stan Lee
William Keith Cassidy: The nature of the play, and especially our production, is very theatrical so I didn’t feel I had to. Also, everyone, and especially Kirby himself, ages several years in the show. Kirby is on stage the whole time so there can be no makeup. It has to be done with acting. We have people in the cast playing four or five parts each, so I didn’t feel that I needed to find people that looked or sounded like them. With the exception of Stan Lee, because he’s the most recognizable. Erik Harrison had the look, and if you read his blog post, he talks about how he always came back to a smile, a grin and this vibrant, youthful energy that Stan Lee has. The one thing I did want physically is that I did want Jack Kirby and his wife Roz to be somewhat the same age. They look like they belong together. I cast a Jack and Roz who are both relatively young, but I could have cast them as older people. I didn’t want to cast one as really young and the other as really old; then they don’t look like they belong together. Whatever their aging is, they have to go together. The play all these lines about Kirby being short, but the actor isn’t and he has blond hair. I told him the other night, “I know you don’t look a thing like him, but by adapting his mannerisms, I think you look like Jack Kirby.”

MR: I have not read this play, so what time frame in Kirby and Lee’s lives is it set? Is it set at the start of the Marvel Age?

WKC: It’s pretty much Kirby’s whole life. It actually opens after he’s dead and there’s an auction of his work and Kirby is commenting on it as an ethereal figure. Then it immediately flashes back to him as a kid in the street gangs in New York City. It goes through his life. We don’t even get to Marvel until the last third of the play.

MR: How long does the play run then?

WKC: There’s no intermission and it’s about an hour and thirty-five minutes.

MR: So that’s a lot of work for Josh Mooney who’s playing Kirby…

WKC: Yes. There’s one scene between where he’s working for Max Fleischer and then going to work for Victor Fox, where he leaves the set. It’s the only time he leaves the stage. For four minutes, he’s not on stage. 

MR: Are there any other comic book people in it?

WKC: Joe Simon is a major character. The original production had Kirby and then only four other people. The actress who played Roz played all the females. The actor that played Simon played a bunch of people. I thought there were certain characters that were important enough to Jack’s life and recurred often enough to be their own actor. I didn’t want them to be ensemble people. My Simon, Lee and Roz  - those are the only roles they play.

MR: So this is a deep dive into comics for an average person – how much did you have to work to convince the theater that it would draw a wider audience?
 
WKC: I didn’t have to work that hard, actually. There was only one theater I wanted to take this to – Off the Quill. I knew some people there and we’d done some shows together. I’d seen a lot of their shows. Like I said, I wanted to have a very theatrical, stylized element and this theater is very good at that. My assistant director Patrick Mullen really handled all the staging, the transitions, and the movement pieces. He was the mover and shaker behind the stylized pieces, but I don’t think you have to have a strong knowledge of comic books. The more you know, the more you’ll appreciate it, but you can come in knowing nothing.

MR: I saw David Bar Katz's The History of Invulnerability about Superman creators Siegel and Shuster at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center years ago, and you didn’t necessarily have to be steeped in comics.

WKC: Right. There were things I didn’t know about Kirby. I didn’t know that he and Joe Simon pretty much created the romance comic books. That was something I learned coming into this.

MR: Is Kirby’s New York background a major part of his character?

WKC: Yes. I don’t know much he felt this at the time he did it, or if it was later while looking back, but the play includes his regret that he changed his name to Jack Kirby from Jacob Kurtzberg, because he was very proud of his Jewish heritage and background. I don’t think he wanted to be perceived as someone who was trying to hide that. There’s actually a dream sequence at the end where he and Stan Lee are in a confrontation. The playwrights use the dream sequence to have a scene where Jack can say all the things to Stan that maybe he never said. One of the things Stan says is, “C’mon, you were ashamed,” and Kirby replies that he wasn’t ashamed.

MR: Everybody who was Jewish in comic books at the time changed their name. It would be hard to find someone who didn’t.

WKC: There’s a funny scene where Stan Lee is a young kid and he’s writing the prose story in Captain America Comics (which was mandatory for cheaper postage rates), and Joe Simon says, “Who’s Stan Lee?” Lee says “That’s me, I changed my name just like Jack.” Jack says, “I changed my name to sound less Jewish ,” and Joe Simon tells Lee that his name sounds Chinese and he’s changed one minority for another.


MR: When did you start working on this?

WKC: We had several meetings in the spring and we had auditions a week or two later. So in April, but we really got into it in May.

MR: Does the scenery have any fantastic elements?

WKC: It’s very open. We’re using projectors because I really want to create the idea that everything’s a comic book page. The projections are serving a lot of purposes. They’re showing his artwork, which is number one for me.  When I read the play, it seemed the purpose of the play was to let everyone know what his contributions were, so the art had to be center. There are several scenes where there’s a transition from one time to another – it goes from 1961 to 1969, so we’re going to project and show all the Marvel characters he created. We have him drawing, and all the work around him on the walls and floors. We have two projectors on the walls, and one on the floor. We also wanted to use the projectors to show time and place as we cover a sixty-year span, and we use the projectors to show how his life influenced his art. There’s one scene during a street gang fight where they freeze, and it merges into a later Jack Kirby panel with a Viking battle scene that works really well. The theater is a black box with the audience ¾ of the way around the stage.

MR: You’ve cast your son, Brett Cassidy, in the play?

WKC: He’s young, but he reads a lot older on stage. He’s nineteen years old and he’s 6’ 7”. He’s playing most of the bosses. He plays Victor Fox, Martin Goodman, General Patton… he’s playing all the characters that are intimidating.

MR: Whether it was true or not in the real world, Kirby apparently always felt put upon by anybody he worked for, and that comes through in the play?

WKC: Oh, yeah. It’s one of the main themes. It’s one of the things that I responded to personally. Kirby had no problem fighting in a street gang, or fighting in the Army in France, but tried to avoid personal conflict. He’s also a product of the Depression and he doesn’t want to hurt his job. Stability is important to him.

MR: Does the play cover his DC years [when he created The Fourth World and the New Gods]?

WKC: No, when he leaves Marvel, the play skips 20 years. The way we’re staging it, we’re doing a transition and will see the DC years through the artwork projections, but it really picks up again in 1982.


MR: The court case against Marvel about Howard the Duck ownership that eventually led indirectly to the return of his original art?

WKC: Yes, he’s at a convention and he realizes someone is selling his original art. That leads into the dream sequence with Stan Lee. We just know he leaves because he’ll get full credit at DC and not argue with Stan Lee over who did what. The lack of financial rewards is touched on too. He’s at this convention and a fan asks him to sign original art, and Kirby asks how he got it. He also asks the fan about his New Gods for DC, and the fan says he couldn’t get into it.

MR: One of my academic friends, Charles Hatfield, has written a book arguing that the New Gods are Kirby’s true vision. And for the new Justice League movie, at least one of Kirby’s characters is a villain, and the New Gods might be the background for the whole Justice League film series… hopefully Kirby’s is getting some of the profits.

WKC: I hope so. I love [local author] Marc Tyler Nobleman’s movie “Batman and Bill” about Bill Finger’s role in Batman. I didn’t know his story at all. 

MR: It’s interesting that comic book history is now focusing on creators instead of just the characters. I hope you are catching a wave.

WKC: I think so. Anybody that likes good theater will like it. Anybody that likes comic books will like it. We’ve got two good built-in audiences. It’s a great cast. 


For more information about the genesis of the play, read these two articles -


‘King Kirby’ Takes The Stage: Fred Van Lente On His New Play About Jack Kirby’s Life [Interview]

by Patrick A. Reed,  June 19, 2014




“It’s not created by a machine – it’s art created by people” – An Interview with “King Kirby” Playwrights Crystal Skillman and Fred Van Lente.

by Reid Vanier, June 19, 2014

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Director's Notes for Off the Quill's upcoming King Kirby play


The play opens July 28 in Greenbelt - see
http://offthequill.org/productions/king-kirby/

KING KIRBY DIRECTOR'S NOTES
by William Keith Cassidy

I have a confession to make. As a kid, I never really liked Jack Kirby’s artwork.

 When I started collecting comics, the artist everyone was talking about was Neil Adams. I quickly became a Neil Adams super-fan. Jack Kirby’s (to my untrained eye) blocky and cartoony layouts just never measured up to Adams’ smooth, flowing compositions, which featured subtle, realistic facial expressions as well as a detailed knowledge of musculature and anatomy. I actually thought Kirby’s work was ugly by comparison…How foolish I was.

As I grew older and (at least a little) wiser, I began to learn how misplaced my first impressions were. Comic art is about moving the story forward and no one did that better than Jack Kirby. Every panel of a Kirby comic is packed with as much emotion as the scene required. When a Kirby hero punches a villain, it’s not just his fist landing on the miscreant’s face, but rather his whole body exploding off the evil-doer’s chin sending him flying backwards. Kirby’s use of depth makes his work appear three dimensional as he often has characters break the frame of the panel. There may have been better artists working in superheroes over the years (Neil Adams among them,) but I argue that there has never been a better illustrator than Jack Kirby.

I found this script while browsing at the Drama Book Shop in New York. I was intrigued that someone had written a play about Jack Kirby, and after I read it was very excited to stage it. Two of my greatest passions are theatre and comic books and I was thrilled to be able to merge the two interests into one project.

Off The Quill was the first and only company I thought of. I knew from the first reading that I wanted to tell the story with a great deal of theatricalism and movement. OTQ has proved quite adept at such stagings in their young history. Also, having acted in productions with many OTQ people before, I knew that they would provide the camaraderie and collaboration, necessary to produce this play in accordance with my vision. I told Patrick Mullen up front, “You guys are better at this than me. I’m really depending on you to nail down the movement aspects of this show.” I was not disappointed.

From my first production meeting, we were all in agreement that the art should be the center of the production and would incorporate projections of Kirby’s work throughout the show, not only to give the audience an appreciation for his genius, but also to illuminate how Kirby’s life influenced his work. The goal was to have the projections, when they were used, take up several locations. They would not just appear on screens, but on the walls and floors, literally turning the stage into a giant comic book.

From the very first auditions, the actors in this show have been a tremendous joy to work with. There was not one rehearsal after which I did not leave feeling artistically satisfied. Every day, they find something new in their characters. There are many aspects associated with this production that I will forever have fond memories of, but working with this enormously talented group of actors, led by the incredible Josh Mooney in the title role, certainly tops the list.

One final note to all of you Stan Lee fans (and I consider myself one,) this play reflects Jack Kirby’s version of their working and personal relationship. Stan’s memories are quite different. Many comic book historians take one side or the other…or somewhere in the middle. However, I feel that the playwrights committed to telling JACK’S story and we have to respect that. One thing EVERYONE agrees on, is that Jack never received as much credit as he deserves. Even Stan says so. I invite you all to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.

Hopefully, after seeing our production, audiences will have a greater appreciation of Jack’s contributions, both in creating the Marvel Universe and in promoting the art of graphic storytelling.

 He was the KING!

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Pr: Kirby exhibition hype!

(Off topic, but posted for a good friend of mine.)

Hello, this is Charles Hatfield, the author of Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby. I've got news! I'm curating an exhibition, Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby, at my school, California State University, Northridge (here in Los Angeles). This exhibition opens in two weeks, on August 24, and will be up through October 10.

Putting together this show has been the thrill of a lifetime! Comic Book Apocalypse will consist of about 100 pieces of original art by Kirby, alongside dozens of his published comics. I believe this will be the largest gallery exhibition of Kirby art ever held in the US, and it will certainly be the first held at a university and integrated with the work of students and teachers. (All of my classes will be coming to the show and doing work based on it.)

The show focuses on Kirby's art from 1965 on but also includes examples of earlier work from the 1940s and 50s. Featured will be Kirby covers, spreads, panel pages, unpublished drawings, and several of his trademark collages. Two complete stories will be exhibited, as well as examples from many, many others.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a deluxe catalog published by IDW and incorporating twenty essays by artists, storytellers, and scholars. From The Fantastic Four to The New Gods to Kamandi, from the Marvel Universe to Kirby's Fourth World and beyond, this exhibition and catalog will capture Kirby at the peak of his invention and daring.

You are invited to our grand opening reception on Saturday, August 29, from 4 to 7pm! Also, we are holding a gallery talk on Monday, August 31, at 10am, and a panel discussion on Saturday, September 26, at 1pm. All these events are free and open to the public, and will take place in the Gallery, in the midst of all that Kirby! Please feel free to attend any and all of them.

You can read about the show at the CSUN Art Galleries website:

I believe this is going to a major event for comics culture in Los Angeles, and I'm eager to spread the word however I can!
Charles Hatfield
California State University

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Best of Simon & Kirby (Titan Books) received for review


Today's mail brought The Best of Simon & Kirby (Titan Books) for review and I hope to have something up here soon.

They also sent me some Terminator movie books, and we may have a guest reviewer since these aren't comic-book based. Purist, I know, but one must draw the line at some point especially since I've got a lot of comics material that I've told people that I'd be reviewing (apologies if you're still waiting - I haven't forgotten).

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Zadzooks on toys again, including one based on Kirby

"Zadzooks: Reviews of Bionicle Glatorians and Kalibak," Joseph Szadkowski, Washington Times Thursday, February 5, 2009.

On the blog, Greg Bennett has two sets of recommendations.

"Bennett's Best for the week of February 1",
Zadzooks Blog February 06 2009 suggests Marvel's Secret WARRIORS (ehhhh) and I Am Legend, which has artwork by John Cassedy.

In "Bennett's Best for the week of January 25," Zadzooks Blog February 01 2009, he suggests a couple of Ed Brubaker collections.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

OT: Preliminary PR for The Best of Simon & Kirby


I was talking to Titan Books' US rep about their new Watchmen books (the Dave Gibbons' Watching the Watchmen is out already and is very interesting) when she mentioned a Simon & Kirby book. I was curious and she shot me the info. This should be good; I've seen much of these stories before, but I really like the idea of this book especially Evanier's essays and being able to see work for multiple companies in one place.

First is the PR on the whole series, and it's followed by specifics on the first volume due in May.

THE OFFICIAL SIMON AND KIRBY
Titan to Collect the Works of Two Comic Book Legends

Titan Books Signs Exclusive Agreement to Publish Works by Comics’ Greatest Creative Team, with Full Involvement of Living Legend Joe Simon and the Jack Kirby Estate

Titan Books has expanded its publishing agreement with comic book pioneer Joe Simon, co-creator of Captain America, to launch The Official Simon and Kirby Library beginning in 2009. In addition to the previously announced volumes The Best of Simon and Kirby and The Simon and Kirby Superheroes, the library will include volumes collecting the greatest horror, detective, and romance stories ever produced by the legendary Dream Team of comics.

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby first joined forces on the superhero character Blue Bolt in 1940, and later that year created the seminal hero Captain America (soon to be featured in a major motion picture by Marvel Studios). “When Jack and I created Captain America, it sent a shock across the nation even before America had entered World War II,” Simon noted. “But that was only the beginning, and we followed it up with titles like Boy Commandos and Young Romance. They weren’t superhero books, but each one sold millions of copies.”

Beginning in summer 2009 with The Best of Simon and Kirby, Titan Books will release full-color hardcover editions featuring some of the greatest stories ever told in the graphic medium, painstakingly restored by Simon and Kirby historian Harry Mendryk. Simon himself will oversee the process, and will offer original insights and secrets from behind the scenes.

The volume will feature the team’s most famous characters, including Fighting American, Stuntman, and The Fly, as well as genre adventures from such legendary titles as Black Magic, Justice Traps the Guilty, and the industry’s first romance title, Young Romance. Through the generous support of Marvel Comics and DC Comics, The Best of Simon and Kirby will include stories featuring Captain America, The Vision, Sandman, and The Boy Commandos.

“It’s simply astonishing, the materials Joe has kept over the years,” Titan owner and publisher Nick Landau said. “It shows uncanny foresight that he retained so many rights, and preserved those wonderful stories so that today’s readers will be able to enjoy some of the finest comics ever produced.” Details on the contents and format of the books are still being determined, as Landau added, “We want to come up with editions that are as perfect as they can be.”

Simon will attend the February 2009 New York ComicCon to celebrate the launch of The Official Simon and Kirby Library, and will sign exclusive limited edition lithographs. Titan plans to release two books a year, and these will be the only editions authorized by both Joe Simon and the estate of Jack Kirby. In addition to The Official Simon and Kirby Library, Titan will publish the autobiography of Joe Simon in 2010.

Titan Books is a leading publisher of licensed entertainment. The UK’s top publisher of graphic novels and World renowned for television and film companions, including Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, Frank Miller and Will Eisner’s The Spirit, Watching the Watchmen by Dave Gibbons, plus the official Watchmen and Terminator: Salvation movie tie-ins. Titan Books also publishes a series of high-end art books, and biographies such as the New York Times bestselling My Boring-Ass Life: The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith.


-----

THE BEST OF SIMON AND KIRBY (ISBN-13: 978-1845769314, May 2009, 240 pages, 9” x 12¼”, $39.95).

THE BEST OF SIMON AND KIRBY is the first volume in the official Simon and Kirby Library, the only editions authorized by Joe Simon and the estate of Jack Kirby. This oversized, deluxe hardcover will be 9” x 12-1/4”, and in addition to the content that was previously announced, it will feature:

· Two stories from the team’s years at Timely Comics: “Captain America and the Riddle of the Red Skull” (from Captain America Comics #1, March 1941) and “The Vision” (from Marvel Mystery Comics #14, December 1940)

· Two stories from their move to DC Comics: Sandman in “The Villain from Valhalla” (from Adventure Comics #75, June 1942) and “Satan Wears a Swastika” (from Boy Commandos #1, Winter 1942)

· All-new, profusely illustrated essays by Mark Evanier, author of Kirby: The King of Comics, introducing each section of the book

DC Comics and Marvel Comics generously provided their support to Joe Simon in making these adventures available. The Joe Simon-Jack Kirby stories in this book feature the team’s groundbreaking work in superheroes, science fiction, war and adventure, romance, crime drama, westerns, horror, and humor. They have all been painstakingly restored by Simon and Kirby historian Harry Mendryk.

The dust jacket will feature quotes by Michael Chabon, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Harlan Ellison, and Mark Evanier. Underneath the dust jacket the book cover itself will feature a huge reproduction of the double-page spread from Stuntman #2, and in his introduction Simon himself discusses the secrets behind that spread.

Monday, June 02, 2008

New York Times Book Review on Comics

In "Comics," By JOHN HODGMAN, New York Times Book Review June 1, 2008, Hodgeman looks at Kirby and Evanier's new biography of him, Shanower's Age of Bronze and Y the Last Man.

In today's Times, Garfield Minus Garfield is again featured, this time in "Is the Main Character Missing? Maybe Not," By CATE DOTY, New York Times June 2, 2008.

Also in Business, M. Night Shyamalan said "He wanted to market “Unbreakable” as a comic-book movie — the tale of an unlikely superhero — but Disney executives insisted on portraying it as a spooky thriller, like “The Sixth Sense.”" For more of the story, see "Shyamalan’s Hollywood Horror Story, With Twist," By ALLISON HOPE WEINER.

Finally, tomorrow's paper features the return of the animated clay character Mr. Bill. See "Mr. Bill Returns (in One Piece) to Pitch a Debit Card," By WENDY A. LEE, New York Times June 3, 2008.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Comics have conquered the world


The NY Times regularly runs articles on cartoons or comic art these days. Today's Times has an editorial praising Jack Kirby. Unfortunately, it may mean, like opera, that comics are essentially dead.

See "Editorial Observer - Jack Kirby, a Comic Book Genius, Is Finally Remembered" by BRENT STAPLES, New York Times August 26, 2007.