I just received my copy of the Kirby and Me book. It’s a massive project. 320 page. 215 creators involved. All of us were summoned by two french guys, Mickael and Alain to celebrate the King of Comics: Jack Kirby. In the book, my contribution is rather small in size and it’s my fault because it took me a while to find the time to do it. So I’m sharing it now. I wrote a piece and drew an illustration. Both go hand in hand. Here they are for those who won’t pick up the book:
THE KIRBY KITCHEN
By Fabrice Sapolsky
Believe it or not, I wasn’t a fan of Jack Kirby when I first started reading comics. Quite the contrary in fact. I discovered American comics around 7 years old, at the newsstand/bookstore which was on my way home from elementary school. My family and I lived in a suburb, Cergy-Pontoise, about 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from Paris, France. It took me a while to come in and browse. The American comics section was near the window, so I always took a peek from the outside, until I finally gave in to temptation. The rack was full of translated comics: there was Strange, an anthology monthly book with four different Marvel series like Spider-Man and Daredevil. There was Titans, a bimonthly anthology with another batch of Marvel heroes, including the Iron Fist or Star Wars and there were plenty of DC and Marvel albums published by various publishers. Among those, my favorites were Conan the Barbarian, Green Lantern/Green Arrow and the Flash. Jack Kirby? He was nowhere to be seen in those books! And I only had eyes for John Romita, John Buscema, Gil Kane or Neal Adams’ art. My first contact with Kirby came a few years later. It was in another anthology called Special Origines: Strange, filled with reprints of classic Marvel tales. I bought all of them for the heroes. But I hated the art! Yes, you read well. I didn’t like it at all. I couldn’t quite understand it. I was not ready. I was reading comics always trying to find emotions in them. Something I felt Kirby’s comics didn’t quite have.
Then came Machine Man and it changed everything for me.
I fell in love with this story of an android who desperately wants to be human. I looked at Kirby’s art again. I found the emotion I didn’t see the first time around. I was in my teenage years, older. I could understand the King better. I realized that what I thought was just pure action was comic book poetry. Nothing less. Jack Kirby opened our tiny little minds to poetry. Not in the literal sense. It’s kind of a metaphor. But true, there’s poetry in the Hulk. There’s some in Thor, in Captain America, in the Fantastic Four, in the New Gods, in the X-Men, etc. The way Jack Kirby reinvented art, technology… comics in general, again and again, with concepts that defied logic, faith or science was just genius. This is when I fell in love. Because of a damn robot! Or thanks to him.
Then, the second question came: how could Kirby manage to draw all those comics? How did he deliver 3 or 4 books every month? I had to wait another few years to get that answer. But while I was clueless, I started to think of a very bizarre thing. Some sort of Kirby kitchen/sweatshop where he’d work 7 days a week, cooking up comics like a chef would his meals. I wasn’t far from the truth.
In 1998, I created a magazine called Comic Box. A newsmagazine exclusively dedicated to American comics. And I got the chance to interview inker Joe Sinnott, a frequent collaborator of Jack Kirby. He revealed that Kirby was sending pages every day, rarely giving notes back and that he was a creative machine. Flash Forward to now…
I’m no longer a comic book journalist but a creator. I hadn’t thought about Jack Kirby in a while, but my most recent comic book series, Intertwined, owes a lot to the King of Comics. It’s a Kung-Fu series, with a Noir feel to it. Lots of action and emotion. Everything Kirby delivered. Kirby’s presence can be felt as much in my script as in the artist, Fred Pham Chuong’s gift for action. This was not a conscious homage, but re-reading the whole series as we just finished it, I can see how Jack Kirby has influenced us big time! And that’s not all. I recently started drawing. Not to compete with way more talented comic book artists. But to be a better writer and to have more fun(ds) at conventions. I took a few of my favorite Kirby created characters and put them all in an interdimensional kitchen where his fantastic comics may have been produced. This is how I imagine his “pocket universe”, in his head.
Jack Kirby wasn’t just a comic book creator. He was a true inspiration. For many generations of readers and creators. A comic book poet who gave us fantastic characters and made us care for them. He lives in us. We’re now running his kitchen. It’s our responsibility to make sure the next generation cooks great comics too thanks to him.
Brooklyn, March 2017