Jack Kirby: the epic life of the king of comics by Tom Scioli

It was a surprise to absolutely no one that Tom Scioli, the co-creator with Joe Casey of Godland, that Image series that channeled Kirby as if the spirit of Kirby himself was helping them write and draw… that Tom Scioli would one day create a comic book life of the King.

The little preview from Free Comic Book Day may have whetted the appetite, but the full book is, inevitably, so much more.

Stan Lee had his life told as a graphic novel by Peter David and Colleen Doran, so why not Kirby? Scioli ingeniously lets us in his subjects’ heads by telling the whole story in the first person. Yes, subjects is plural, because Scioli lets Roz speak and Stan. But we shall return to that in a moment.

The only time I ever got a decent chance to speak to Jack Kirby (I was introduced by the guy who made the Kirby statue that you can see in the graphic novel), he told me about heading to war. And I have read a lot of books and articles about Kirby since. But never has his grueling wartime experience been brought so vividly to life as it has been here. I knew Kirby arrived in Europe rather too close to D-Day, and I knew he nearly lost his feet through frostbite. But the bits in between! Kirby’s old boss Will Eisner later saw some horrendous stuff in Vietnam, but Kirby’s experiences were up close and personal. No wonder his war comics are so good. They’re real. It is a great pity that his own publication, Foxhole, just came out at the wrong time.

I did not know, or had forgotten that Kirby’s boyhood chum, Leon Klinghoffer, had decided to stand up to the Palestinian Liberation Front and was shot by them in 1985. 

Now, I did wonder if Scioli was going to mention the story Kirby often told about how when he had to return to Goodman looking for work, the furniture was being moved out and Stan Lee was crying. Kirby then single-handedly rescued what became Marvel. So, yes, it’s there. But Scioli’s first person account allows Stan to give us his version. Both narrators are what we call in Lit Crit “unreliable” and there is not a whit of truth in either account.

After Kirby’s retelling of the tale, it was suggested that Stan may have been upset because his friend and favourite collaborator had just died in a tragic accident. But that’s not a fact either.

Kirby first returned to Goodman in 1956. Joe Maneely did not have his fatal accident until June 1958. One of the first new Kirby-at-Goodman titles was Yellow Claw #2, which Stan let him take over from… Joe Maneely, since Joe had plenty of other work.

It is often thought that Kirby went looking for work from Goodman (who had ripped off him and Joe Simon over Captain America you will remember) just as Goodman had lost his distributor and had to shut down. But American News Company did not go under until April 1957, by which time Kirby had already produced a few books. At any rate, the shutdown lasted only until Goodman negotiated a new deal with a distributor owned by National/DC. They were back in the regular comics business by about September and so, there never existed any reason to move out any furniture. Black Rider, which Kirby worked on is cover dated September but, of course, was completed before that. It was only after that that Kirby was on the “Monster Books” and various Westerns. And we’re still a good 5 years before FF#1!

Why doesn’t Scioli tell us this? Because his whole – brilliant – method is to let the characters tell their own story. At the back of the book, there are copious notes of sources. Don’t skip these, they’re part of the whole.

You may have gathered I think this is a must-have for anyone’s collection. So, what are you waiting for? Just buy it!

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