Aiden Dalby speaks to Mark Evanier about his award-winning biography, Kirby: King Of Comics
Mark Evanier, writer, historian and former assistant to Jack Kirby has tweaked his biography of the legendary artist. Originally published by Abrams Books in 2008, Mark has amended parts of the text, adding a new chapter and foreword, as well as newly found art.
Kirby: King Of Comics is part coffee-table art book and part biography. What made you decide to go with this format?
I had a lot of Kirby artwork that I thought should be preserved. The material dictated the form; Jack was a guy who span an incredible series of decades doing great artwork and it was fascinating to a lot of people to see it chronicled that way. You could see the evolution of his style – even late in his career he was still innovating and doing incredible work. That was one of the main messages that I wanted people to get out of the book – not ‘hey this guy did some great comic books’ but ‘hey, this guy drew some great comics in the ’40s, and he drew them in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.’
I hope one of the things people take away from anything I or anyone else writes about Jack is what a hard worker he was. When you get to be proficient in comics there’s a great temptation to coast and reuse stock poses and plots and keep drawing the same figures over and over again to have one set of action poses and dress the character in whatever costume. Jack didn’t do that.
You mention in the book that Jack asked you to document his work for a biography.
When I first met Jack he was impressed that I knew a lot about comic book history. I was 17 at the time and this was 1969, there wasn’t a lot written about the history of comics. What’s interesting is he never said to me, “This is what I want you to write.” He never tried to shape the truth, nothing was off limits. Jack always believed that he would do very well if he just told the truth, so I kept notes on a lot of things and wrote a lot of articles over the years. It never seemed to be the right time to write a large book about him because he was still vital and ongoing that I didn’t have the whole story.
Jack was very much of the present and also the future; one of the most interesting things about him was what he was going to do next. After he died, Roz, his wonderful wife, said to me, “I want you to write a big book about him some day.” She didn’t say tomorrow, didn’t say next week, and she said I could have access to anything I wanted, all the files and papers, and she would answer all my questions, so I began to do that.
What could the artists of today learn from studying Jack Kirby?
I tell people that if I had emerged from my association with Jack able to draw just like him he would have considered me a failure because he didn’t want people imitating his stylistic works and have their drawings mistaken for Kirby’s. He wanted people to understand the energy behind the work, the thought behind it and the passion behind his work, and take all of that and do work that’s unique to them. He loved the new talented people that emerged in his lifespan who were doing Kirby without doing Kirby. Kirby: King of Comics (Anniversary Edition) by Mark Evanier and introduction by Neil Gaiman (Abrams ComicArts, out 1August for £17.99)
When you get to be proficient in comics there’s a temptation to coast. Jack didn’t do that
Leah Moore is a writer of comics, prose and journalism, as well as the co-founder of the revolutionary Electricomics. She has written for Albion, Wild Girls,
Tom Strong and more. Follow her on Twitter at @leahmoore.