It's widely known amongst comic book readers that legendary cartoonist Jack "The King" Kirby had more ideas for comic characters than he knew what to do with, but next month, Dynamite Entertainment will begin testing the boundaries of how far the artist's imagination can reach with their new series "Kirby: Genesis."
Conceived by painter Alex Ross and writer Kurt Busiek with final art by Ross and Jack Herbert, the comic series will launch a new universe based around the dozens of heroes Kirby's estate own the rights to including previously published characters like Captain Victory and all new players based upon The King's conceptual and sketchbook work. CBR News spoke with both Ross and Busiek during the preparation for the series about the origins of the project, and with the special #0 issue hitting in May ahead of June's "Kirby: Genesis" #1, it's the perfect time to check back on the progress of the reinvention of Kirby's ideas.
Below, Ross opens up his sketchbook for an inside look at how he'll be treating some of the names big and small from Jack Kirby's history in "Genesis." From the role of well known characters like The Silver Star to the namesake everyman that guides the journey to the celestial gods overseeing the whole affair, the artist gives us the biggest glimpse yet of what's in store.
Captain Victory & The Silver Star
The two biggest characters from Kirby's work with Pacific Comics in the 1980s, Captain Victory and The Silver Star will take a lead role in the cosmology of the world in "Genesis." "You need to make the most use of them because Kirby made the most use of them," said Ross. "To the degree in the story that they'll take the lead, I can't say they will other than that they'll be present and visible throughout. But they're also the first two characters that are going to get their own splinter series. So a greater investigation of the backgrounds and the worlds of those two characters will begin in spinoff projects, which is reasonably appropriate. But there's a lot more that we've invested so far – we've got two and a half issues done – in terms of the extrapolations of other characters that are anything from sketches for projects that never got off the ground or paintings that were turned into fully realized characters."
The artist explained that anything written and drawn by Kirby from the past of these heroes will be canonical for the world of "Genesis," however "We'll be giving everybody as much information for what they need to know. A large part of this is revealing that the world had a lot more fantastic things going on in it than we as laymen were coming into it in the storyline. When we start having our eyes opened to this fantastic reality that's all around us, a lot of these characters will be brought on, though not necessarily in a case where we go 'Here's their origin.' It's just that they're part of this fantastic tapestry."
"They'll definitely have some kind of intersecting paths. I think of them as either the Superman/Batman or the Captain America/Iron Man characters of our universe – though neither of those metaphors are really appropriate. They're the two leading lights."
Kirby & Bobbi
As with many of Ross and Busiek's collaborations, "Genesis" will involve a "man on the street" element to introduce the fantastic concepts of the legendary artist – and the boy whose eyes readers will see through has a familiar name. "Kirby's the guy that we experience the world first hand with. He's the layman with the most interest and the most personal intersection," Ross said. "We set the story in Minnesota. And why Minnesota? Well...why not? Just anything that can be different than setting it in LA or New York.
"So we start with Kirby and this girl he's been pining for, and ultimately big changes occur in the world and in their lives that cause him to be on the chase for some of these fantastic characters as they're beginning to erupt. One of my favorite things we're playing with that Kirby developed that never made it to a full series is this character called Thunderfoot who is effectively a Bigfoot character – a big white Yeti – that he created a cover for. I've recreated the cover as a big full painting for issue #3, and our Kirby intersects with that character right away in issue #2. It's great fun to have another one of those Hulk body type, archetypal characters in the story. In a way, it's nice to have a character thrown into a story where in many ways it becomes quickly acceptable once they're on stage to go 'I get what that's all about...it's a big Yeti. I get it!'"
Ross said that he and Busiek looked to examples from the King's published comics of normal human characters who interacted with the gods to shape their own Kirby. "Obviously, Kurt and I have experience doing that with 'Marvels' and all the stuff through 'Astro City,' but it's a very common thing in Kirby's work to ground things that way. The fact that he took on Jimmy Olsen as his first book at DC. It may have been that he said 'Give me your worst book, and I'll turn it around for you' but the other reality was that he liked the sort of young adult protagonist who's underestimated for what his worth can be in a larger epic. These roles always take the layman and show that they do have something to contribute. Of course, we have bigger plans for how our protagonists evolution will move on as the series progresses."
Fitting the "Genesis" theme, this superteam will have a number of iterations as their story progresses through the book. "They're characters that were part of the Topps series launch from 20 years ago where they took character shots from Kirby for Captain Glory, Bombast and a character called Night Glider, and they gave them all their own solo books. So we put those together with another character sketch he had for someone called Maurader and made them all representatives of his 'Secret City Saga' called the Galvans. These superhumans from an underground city are characters where we're doing a slow burn reveal of what they turn out to be.
"The most easily adaptable of these, you'll see on the very first cover to issue #0: the character Glida who was then called Night Glider. She has a black and silver uniform that I'm interpreting in a very modern, 'TRON' kind of way. And we're taking that 'TRON' effect to the rest of the characters costumes – treating them with that glowing light effect on black as hers is. But as the series bears on, you'll eventually get an unfolding of those characters costumes as they'll become more luminous and colorful."
Ross said that part of the concept came "from Kurt trying to step away from the fact that the Captain Glory costume might be well known by some people, and it may be a historically important part of Kirby's design work...but as Kurt believes, it's kind of a terrible costume design. So I want to take this archetypal, Captain America-like costume design and make it work within the context of the series. So when he comes out as full-on Captain Glory in the book, I'll probably paint those panels myself to convince you, the reader and myself that this isn't a terrible costume design."
This reimagined creation taps on early Kirby work while tying it to more recent mythologies. "This is a character concept that grew from the title for a storyline Kirby was conceiving in the 1950s," the artist explained. "I believe it was for a TV show – a science fiction show – that he was creating the substance for. He translated the name later on into different costume designs, the one of which you're seeing that I did is a turnaround for his becoming a fully fledged character in our story. The other design Kirby did used a bit more Tiger-esque element in the design, and we're using both in the series. We're treating it as a lineage character who has an association to the Galactic Rangers of Captain Victory, so he's ultimately one of those soldiers – a key soldier.
"What I like about the design is that it has a kind of Ultraman quality to it. Think of this quasi-armored guy who will land on a foreign planet and complete whatever task you need. There's something very appealing about that."
The Jupiter Probe Gods
These mystery and currently nameless celestial gods take their inspiration from a real life bit of human space exploration. "They represent the unknown coming from space to intersect with us and to reveal all," Ross laughed. "These things were a design for the Jupiter Plaque that went on the space probe called the Pioneer. It went out into deep space and was giving us photographs of Jupiter. That probe carried with it the standard human interpretation, but the Los Angeles Times Magazine reached out to prominent artists to ask what they would have put on the plaque instead of what NASA did. Kirby's idea was 'Represent us as big as you possibly can. Represent us in an idealized way so just in case you've got a negative interaction to come with a space race...you've put a little fear of God into them.' For our story, we start with 'What if this was the image on the plaque?'
"And in fact those characters as they appear in our story will always be illustrated by me – sometimes as a full page and sometimes in single panels overlaid on top of other art."
"Kirby Genesis" launches next mont with a #0 issue followed by the fully fledged issue #1 in June from Dynamite Entertainment.