The Jack Kirby Museum’s YouTube page has some great footage of the King discussing his various creations. In light of the upcoming film, I thought you might enjoy hearing from the man who helped create him had to say about the (re)invention of “Captain America”:
What strikes me whenever I hear one of the greats talk about the early days of the industry, as Stan Lee did at Dragon*Con this year, is how inseparable this great creative enterprise is from the relentless drive of free enterprise. I remember Stan saying something like “If I didn’t have someone telling me we needed a new character, I’d never have come up with a single one.” Or Kirby, here, saying basically that he needed a job. These guys worked for a living!
I think later generations of comic book creators and fans have a somewhat fuzzy-headed, idealistic view of what the entire process is like. We focus on the “artistic” ideal too much, putting the artists and writers at some kind of higher plane of existence, living in ivory towers thinking lofty thoughts and being struck by the Muses to pass along the rarefied fruit of the gods, as if what they do is so pure and incredible that it should be completely unsullied by the mundane and crass concerns of everyday life.
Yes, Kirby and Lee and the rest wanted to do something creative, but mostly they needed to put bread on the table. And they got paid not by how lofty their motives, but how successful their products were commercially. Kirby cranked out more pages and more ideas than almost anyone else in comics history. To call him prolific is like saying the Pacific Ocean is a bit damp. But he wasn’t a tortured genius driven by inner demons, he was a guy trying to make a living the best way he knew how.
Stan Lee was the same way. By his own admission he wasn’t really an “out of the blue” idea man, with concepts just bursting into his brain. He had to have an assignment, a “job” to do. And he did it incredibly well, but it was driven by the need to produce income.
Gil Kane loved cowboy comics. That’s what he grew up with and what he wanted to do more than any other commercial art. But super-heroes are what was selling, so that’s what he did. I’m glad for it, because his Green Lantern made me fall in love with the character, and we all benefit.
Legendary Batman artist Neal Adams is a working illustrator. He does everything from roller coaster design to toothpaste commercials. He draws Batman because he’s good at it and it pays well, but he’s a commercial artist.
I think fundamentally that’s what is at the bottom of some of the disdain the art world has for comics creators. As an art form rooted first and foremost in the world of capitalism, I think they feel it’s sullied or dirty somehow, not worthy of being “real art”. Such an attitude is as misinformed as it is foolish. That these great innovators needed to put food on the table no more makes their comics “just” commercial art than the fact that Michaelangelo got paid to do the Sistene Chapel makes it a billboard.
Phew! Didn’t mean to rant on like that, my apologies.
Go watch some Jack Kirby videos, dammit, and have a good weekend!