I wouldn’t have had a chance to meet Jack Kirby in person. I’ve never been to a convention further from home than the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, and my first trip to California was in 1995, the year after he died. My more recent and more modest ambitions have been to get to a Kirby Museum pop-up in NYC, and to get to a minor convention to see the “History of Jack Kirby” presentation by Mark Badger, Bruce Simon, and Steve Sherman. Sadly, Steve passed away last week.
Steve and Mark Evanier were Jack Kirby’s assistants in the early ’70s, and before the decade was out, Steve was also Kirby’s co-writer on screenplays and the co-creator of Kobra. Steve evidently didn’t have any ambitions to write a book, but if he had, it would have been a book I’d have wanted to read. Steve was humble and always generously forthcoming answering questions, and he was an unflinching advocate for Jack Kirby.
One of Steve’s emails, to Patrick Ford, was quoted in Ferran Delgado’s excellent Sky Masters Sundays book, and was instrumental in the construction of my own book. I reproduce it here:
The thing is, if Joe Maneely hadn’t died, things would have been a lot different. I guess you can call it fate, destiny, random events, but Jack probably would have found something else. Yes it was early ’61 that Goodman was going to pull the plug. Don’t forget, the Marvel offices at the time were pretty small, so it wasn’t a big deal to close the office. I would guess that Goodman had not yet informed the printer or engravers, since that would have been bought ahead of time. I would guess that last issues of the books had been sent out. Jack couldn’t let them close. Jack had always been working on ideas for books. He was pretty well aware of what was being published. He always felt that “superhero” books would make a comeback.
Since Goodman already had the pipeline going, it wasn’t too much to give it another shot, especially since it was Jack. He had come through before, so why not. As Jack told me, he came up with all of the titles at once. He called it a “blitzkrieg”. He felt if he put out a bunch of new books at once, it would make a splash. He had “FF”, “Spider-Man”, “The X-Men” and “Thor” and “Hulk”. You can believe it or not, but that’s what he told me. I think that if you go through all of the interviews with Jack, Stan and countless others, it’s pretty obvious that Stan never came up with a title in his life. It either came from Goodman or someone on staff. I read somewhere that even “Millie the Model” and the other girl comics that Stan takes credit for were thought up by someone else.
Curiously, in the Kirby “tribute” issue of Alter Ego, Will Murray cited Mark Evanier suggesting the same thing. This is curious because it would have had to pass by the editing pen of Roy Thomas (see previous blog posts). Murray’s article is a rework of his Comic Book Marketplace article from 2000, “The Secret Origin of Iron Man.” The Evanier quotes are from the original. Here’s the interesting bit:
The origins of the character are complicated, and many behind-the-scenes details have either never been fully reported or are in dispute. According to Mark Evanier (friend and early-1970s assistant to Jack Kirby), who got the story from the artist himself, Kirby created the character design for Iron Man and brought it to Stan Lee sometime prior to the creation of Thor, Spider-Man, and Ant-Man. If verified, this may date from the period during which he brought in the original version of Spider-Man. Little if any thought was given to who the man inside Iron Man’s bulky armor would be. Kirby’s concept sketch ultimately became the cover to Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963).
One thing that seems to have escaped Will completely is the source of the plot of the first Iron Man story: it is identical to Kirby’s 1958 Green Arrow story, “The War That Never Ended.” If Murray had to rework a 20-year-old article, why in the world didn’t he cite the Green Arrow plot? In the Alter Ego telling, Kirby’s involvement in the Iron Man origin is restricted to the character design. It becomes clear, however, that if Don Heck got the plot from Lee over the phone, then Lee, as was his MO, was reading said plot straight off of Kirby’s Iron Man concept pages.
Roy Thomas expends a lot of effort in and out of Alter Ego to see to it that Kirby is credited as nothing more than Stan Lee’s artist. It’s fitting that, despite printing an Iron Man creation article that omits the key fact of Iron Man’s creation, Thomas’ tool of Kirby suppression is the source of a 20+-year-old Mark Evanier quote that confirms Steve Sherman’s version of Marvel’s inception.