Kurt Busiek On Launching "Kirby: Genesis"

Tue, May 31st, 2011 at 8:21am PDT | Updated: May 31st, 2011 at 10:15am

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

Last week, a brand new shot at launching a group of colorful heroes into their own universe hit comic shops in the form of "Kirby: Genesis" #0 from Dynamite Entertainment. And unlike some other super universe kickstarts in recent memory, this new series was born from concepts and characters created long ago by once voice, but never united under once banner until now.

Assembling a wide range of characters, designs and concepts created by late comics legend Jack Kirby over the course of his career, "Genesis" in its final form came about under the direction of "Marvels" and "Astro City" creators Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, though the project (drawn by artist Jackson Herbert) held challenges unique to the men's previous wide-scale efforts. For one, not every character in the series was truly intended to be a character on its own.

Below, Busiek speaks to CBR News about how real life elements from Kirby's life including his name and his conceptual work tied to NASA in the '70s helped the "Genesis" project gel from the birth of an in-story protagonist also named Kirby to the approach of celestial beings sent to galvanize the fictional world. And, the writer also teases how well-known Kirby comic creations like the Silver Star and Captain Victory will break out big in the incoming issue #1 of the regular "Kirby: Genesis" comics.

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CBR News: To start at the beginning, as they say, I was wondering what your goals were for this #0 issue and beyond that the first full issue of the series. In a comic where you're dealing with an expansive cosmology almost from page one, what are the important pieces you wanted to put into play at this phase in the game?

Kurt Busiek: I like to think of a zero issue as an overture, almost. It shouldn't be "required reading" -- because really, if the story doesn't start in #1, why call it #1? -- but then, comics should never feel like required reading anyway. They should be something you _want_ to read. But a zero issue should give you a taste -- the flavor, the look, the atmosphere of what's coming. It's a promise: We're going to deliver you a story that feels like this.

When I did the zero issue of "Conan," one of the reasons we did it was that readers and retailers didn't really have a sense of what they were going to get. Conan's an A-list character, but the last time he'd been in comics it had been the end of a long downward slide. I was a well-known name, but for superheroes, not fantasy. And Cary wasn't as well known as he deserved -- plus, the whole color-over-pencils thing wasn't something people were familiar with. But by doing a zero issue, and saying, "Here, it's cheap, try it," we were able to show people what kind of thing they were going to get -- they could see that I could write that kind of world, that the artwork was gorgeous, that we were going to treat the source material with respect, and so on. It gave everyone confidence, going into #1.

Here, we're in a similar situation. When we'd talk about how Alex and Jackson's art was going to work together, people wouldn't understand. And there are all these concepts, all these different things that are going to be part of it -- how does that work? What's it going to read like?

The zero issue tells you. It's going to look like this. It's going to feel like this. Lots of big cosmic stuff coming, but here's a good vantage point, where you've got solid ground to stand on and can see it all coming. Like an overture, it's a promise of what's to come.

Beyond that, there should always be some story value in what's going on. And it works out nicely that we have a piece of this story that happens years ago, when our human characters are kids. Using that as the heart of our "overture" gives us a chance to do some groundwork, to introduce characters, show you a little about the world, set up a mystery and make a thematic statement or two.

I'm also very happy with the "sketchbook section," where we get a real chance to show you Kirby stuff, and show how it's being translated into what we're doing. We're not imitating Kirby, any more than he imitated anyone else. But I hope we're honoring him and his ideas, and that a sense of that comes through strongly.

Beyond that, in #1...? Well, that's where we hit the ground running. The stage has been set with the overture, and the fuse lit. #1 is where it starts to go off. So we put our two young leads -- Kirby and Bobbi -- onstage, introduce them, and then confront them with cosmic events and a bizarrely-changing world. Visitors have come to Earth. But like Jack Kirby asked, when they come, will they be the trader? Or the tiger? Or...something else?

Before we get into some of the bigger pieces of the series, I wanted to talk about the human angle on the book. With all of your big, universe-wide stories you place an identifiable character at the heart of the proceedings. This time out, it's Kirby the character – the teenager who we've glimpsed through some of Alex's sketches. What can you say about the vital role this kind of character plays in a book like this in general, but also what is is about Kirby's specific personality and story that makes him the protagonist for the "Genesis" world?

The one piece of writing advice Jack KIrby ever gave me personally was that it doesn't matter how far-out you get, as long as your characters react to it like real people would, the audience will follow you anywhere.

That's good advice no matter what kind of story you're telling or who your lead characters are. But in this case, we're telling a story involving dozens of wild concepts and cool cosmic characters, and a story that transforms a world. So rather than pick one of the superhero characters and tell the story through their eyes, which would skew the focus somewhat, it works best to see this overwhelming, world-changing experience through the eyes of someone whose world is the one being changed.

So that's why Kirby exists as a character, that's his structural role. But he's more than just a spectator, too. We deliberately made him a smart, bookish, non-brawny kind of guy, so that he'd be a contrast with all these super-guys we'll be meeting -- someone who doesn't seem like he's going to throw on a cape and join them -- but he's also thoughtful and imaginative, the kind of guy who can see all this happening and react to it in more than just an immediate way. He can reflect on it, think about what it means -- to him, to his friends, to his world -- in a way that makes him a lead character rather than a bystander. Where Phil Sheldon, in "Marvels," was all about witnessing, and the story was about how big events changed him, this story will also be about how Kirby reacts to and changes big events.

Because he is one of the heroes, even if he doesn't look like it. He's a voice of humanity, and the story of KIRBY: GENESIS is his story, his through-line. That's why he got the name that's real big in the logo.

He's going to see a lot. But he's also going to learn a lot, and he's going to do a lot.

Beyond that, the heroes! We know a metric ton of Kirby designs and characters will be working their way into the series over the course of all the issues, but who were the core characters you wanted to include right away and why?

Well, I don't want to give away too much -- we introduce that characters in the story itself, so I don't want to undercut that by telling people all about them ahead of time. But part of it was structural, in that the zero issue shows the Pioneer space probe going out into space, catching the attention of, um, something, and getting a response, so it was a good place to establish the main spaceborn heroes in this story: Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, the manhunters of Galaxy Green, and the enigmatic Wanderer and Spring. And once the focus shifts to Earth, we meet Silver Star, the Glory Knights, Thunderfoot and others.

And some important characters don't show up right away, because finding them is part of Kirby's journey. So the Primals don't turn up in #1, and the heroes of the Mythlands take a little more work to come onstage. But if everyone showed up at once, there'd be no way to introduce them effectively.

In the end, it's all about the story. Silver Star gets brought on stage early on because given the way the story's unfolding, it's easy for him to come onstage early on. It's harder for the Primals to, so they come along as the story permits. But both are core concepts.

I know, I know -- you want me to list the characters and explain who they are and what their part is in the story. But I want to tell you that in the story, not here! So I'll say this: We have space marines. We have intergalactic manhunters. We have a government super-soldier, we have the warriors of an ancient culture, we have the last of the sasquatches, an alien game preserve, dinosaurs, cave-boys, dragons, the remnants of Asgard and Olympus, genies and demons and proto-gods. We've got the toppled ruins of mythologies, the Phantom Continent, lost cities and giant spaceships and a celestial nomad. And more!

So hop on in before I throw in a set of Ginsu knives. Ginsu knives really aren't all that Kirby.

Obviously, Silver Star and Captain Victory are two heroes we'll be seeing a lot of as things develop – both because they had some of the best-known adventures as drawn by The King himself and because they fit very well into the square-jawed leadership hero mold of big cosmic series like this. What can you say about how they'll play into the series? Will their previous adventures be used as backdrop at all, or will their arrival to earth this time out be seen as their first interaction with mankind?

Their previous adventures absolutely happened. Captain Victory did indeed visit Earth and stop an infestation of the Lightning Lady and her Insectons, and he went back off into space and messed with the Wonder Warriors (including Ursan the Unclean and my favorite, Paranex the Fightin' Fetus) and Blackmass and all that stuff. You don't need to know any of that to follow "Genesis," but it all happened.

And Kirby's "Silver Star" mini-series happened as published, too. The events aren't widely known, in either case, because they were covered up. But they're part of the backstory, you bet.

As for what role they play -- Captain Victory arrives to investigate a cosmic disturbance, and finds rather more than he bargained for. And Silver Star is America's line of last defense against the weird and strange, and "weird and strange" is busting out all over the place, so he's got plenty to do. But that doesn't mean Victory and Silver Star are on the same team -- or even that they're allied with Galaxy Green or the Glory Knights, both of whom have reasons to stick their noses into the situation, too. Everyone's got their own missions, and they don't always coincide.

In general, how did you approach the various characters in terms of canonicity? By that I mean, did you feel there were some components of Kirby's original work that you couldn't move too far off of his notes while others gave you more leeway? What helped define the line for you in terms of what you had set in stone and what you could play with a bit more?

Our feeling is, if Kirby published it, it happened. So "Silver Star" and "Captain Victory," those are canon all the way. If there was material by other creators (and here I'm thinking of the Topps Kirbyverse), then we're pretty much setting it aside, including the stuff I wrote, and going back to Kirby's notes and sketches and concepts. We want to be building from pure Kirby, not from someone else's alteration of Kirby. So the Secret City Saga -- we've got Kirby's notes and drawings, and are trying to be as faithful to that as we can, rather than using what Roy Thomas and Steve Ditko added to it. Same for my take on the Teenagents, or Silver Star. We're putting it all aside, with no slight intended to anyone -- and just working with the Kirby, much as with Conan I put all the other stuff aside and worked only from the Robert E. Howard material.

We have more leeway with some of the Kirby material, because he left more open to interpretation. His drawings of Sigurd or he Black Sphinx, for instance, are gorgeous finished drawings, but there's no story material to go with them, so we have fairly wide latitude to expand on them. When we have notes -- as we do with his pitches for Dragon Boy, the Phantom Continent or Dark Domain -- we're sticking closely to what's in those notes. When we just have drawings, we're working from what those drawings seem to suggest and imply.

There are places where we might make a small change -- Kirby's take on Galaxy Green was that it was set in Earth's future, at a time when the men had all died out. We wanted to involve them in this time period, though, so we're saying that their planet (which they might well have called "Earth," in their home language) is a planet where all the men died out, but it's not our Earth. So it's the same core idea, but moved to a setting that allows us to have it interact with the rest of what's going on.

But the ideas are so powerful and primal that it's easy to stick to their core essence and build good stories out of them. We wouldn't want to mess with them too much -- the whole point of doing this project is bringing Kirby's ideas to life, not discarding them. So we flesh out material where needed, but use what's already there as fully as we can.

In a big, broad story sense, what was your biggest challenge in creating an entry point for all these characters? I know that part of what we'll be seeing as the story gets rolling is some godlike creatures coming to earth reminiscent of Kirby's Pioneer Space Probe illustration. Did that piece of art in some ways galvanize everything you were trying to pull together?

It did. I knew we had a ton of characters to work with, and it's always hard to build that into a clean, effective structure, but once Alex mentioned those characters and that moment, I knew we had a story. Because the moment of those characters' arrival on Earth is a trigger that makes everything else happen, and it's also a moment that our human-level characters, Kirby and Bobbi, can be witness to, pulling them into the story. I knew all the backstory could come together at that point, and the adventure would kick off there.

And once I knew that, the rest was -- well, it wasn't exactly easy, but I had a starting point I knew would work, and a climax to build toward, so it was just a matter of finding the path (or paths, in this case) that led from one to the other in a way that would be dramatic and satisfying, and give us a way to show off all these great ideas.

Overall, what is the most important thing fans should be on the lookout for in the pages of issue #0? What key thread do you think holds the disparate elements together best?

The most important thing is what happens on the last three pages. But everything matters. I was surprised by how much even minor throwaway bits, like what's going on in the background in the panel with the dinosaurs -- turned out to be a piece of information that fed into the main story. Even stuff I thought was just a cool visual when I wrote it is weaving back in to the story as it develops.

That's the nice thing about overtures. Everything that's coming has a place in them -- you just don't know how it's all going to unfold.

"Kirby: Genesis" #0 is in stores now. #1 ships in June from Dynamite Entertainment.

TAGS:  dynamite entertainment, alex ross, kurt busiek, jack kirby, kirby: genesis

 
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