CCI XTRA: The Jack Kirby Tribute Panel

Tue, July 31st, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Chris Ullrich, Contributing Writer

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Jack "King" Kirby is regarded by those with even a passing knowledge of superhero comics as one of the most revered and iconic figures ever to pick up a pencil. His enduring, stylistic, signature artwork is easily one of the most recognizable and imitated in the medium. To pay tribute to the man, his art and his lasting and deeply felt influence on comic book creators and the industry itself, Kirby fan extraordinaire Mark Evanier assembled an elite panel of professionals at Comic-Con International to discuss the man, his work and his influence on an entire industry. The panel, which included Erik Larsen, Darwyn Cooke, Kirby estate attorney Paul Levine and author Neil Gaiman, were all different in their styles and approaches to work but still, all united by one thing: their love of Jack Kirby.

"Jack Kirby is everywhere," began Evanier. "We could not fill a room like this, and this is a bigger room than last year, for anyone else so thank you for being here. It's also amazing that Jack is in print more now than he's ever been in his life. Beautiful collected books of his work, some of which were considered flops at the time. Jack's failures are now $49.99 hardcover books."

Next, Evanier introduced the panel, to the delight of the crowd. Then, he decided to "play Phil Donahue for a minute" and go into the audience to talk to some people with upcoming Kirby-related projects. First was Steve Saple who had a letter to read to the audience about Jack Kirby. The letter, a moving and heart-felt tribute to Kirby came from his friend, colleague and Long Island neighbor Joe Simon, can best be summarized by this excerpt: "His pencils were solid gold. Put simply, Jack was the finest storyteller the comics ever had. It was a privilege to know him, work with him and call him my friend."

He also asked Saple about his upcoming Kirby projects but he didn't want to discuss them, only hinting that he is working with Simon on some Kirby projects that "will make the audience very, very happy."

Next, Evanier talked with Jack Kirby's daughter Lisa, calling her "Jack's finest co-creation." Although a bit shy about speaking to the crowd, she nevertheless managed to say a few, heartfelt, words.

"It means a lot to myself and my family that people remember my father and remember his work," Kirby said. "That would mean a lot to my father because his fans, he was so grateful and so happy and loved the people. "He love meeting fans. My mother would have to drag him away sometimes when we went to conventions. Thank you so much for coming."

After Lisa Kirby, Evanier spoke briefly to John Morrow, editor of "The Kirby Collector," who promised "exiting things and a huge issue #50 to come. Still tabloid size but instead of 80 pages, its going to be a 168 page trade paperback we're calling 'Kirby Five Oh' which will contain the 50 best of everything about Jack."

At that point, Evanier went on to the panel and asked them each a couple of his usual questions. The first was, "What is the first Jack Kirby art you remember seeing and what is you're favorite Kirby art if its not the first one?"

Some of the panels favorites included Neil Gaiman's. "The first Kirby art I remember was an English reprint of 'X-Men' #1," said Gaiman. "Favorites? Probably two. One of them is in 'The Demon' when Clarion the Witchboy has vanished Jason Blood and they're in the apartment, walking around this cool, spooky apartment. The other favorite moment of Jack is a very odd little one, the first ten pages of 'Captain America's Bi-Centennial Battles'."

Erik Larsen first saw Kirby work when reading his father's comic collection. "The first time I saw Kirby work was 'Boy Commandos' and the first one I actually paid for on my own was 'Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth', which kicks all kinds of ass," Larsen said. "My favorite is probably 'Kamandi' as well, especially the 'Click Clack' story."

Darwyn Cooke was also a big fan of 'Kamandi,' but came to Kirby first while watching the "Marvel Super Heroes" TV show in his native Canada. His favorite was Kirby's story "Flower," which "was so moving it made me cry at the end."

Paul Levine chimed in as well on his favorite Kirby work: "My favorite was Jack's signature on a contract I had negotiated for him."

Next, the panel was asked if there were any Kirby-related projects they have always wanted to do. Gaiman was very excited about adapting Kirby's "The Demon" for the screen if it ever happens. "I want to write that story and I'll kill anyone else who tries," said Gaiman.

Cooke's ideal Kirby-related project: "I would love to try some Captain America," he said.

At the end there was time for one or two questions, including whether Kirby gets enough credit for all he did. Of course, the overwhelming opinion was no, he doesn't. Evanier was particularly adamant. "I don't think Jack gets enough credit for anything," Evanier said. "I don't usually watch movies made from comics but I sat through to the end of the first 'X-Men' expecting to see some credit for Jack and finally there it was in the smallest type and worst placement possible. You could not put that man's name on the screen and have it mean less than where they put it."

"It's practically criminal," agreed Gaiman.

Another question concerned Kirby's legacy and influence on the panel. "The thing I admire most about Jack was the example he set as a man," said Cooke. "He was a total pro, creative, brilliant and he understood how to marshal that in service to what was most important to him, his family.

"Jack Kirby could have been a golf caddy and he would still have been an inspiration to us all. He was just that kind of man."

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