Jack Kirby’s move to DC, negotiated over a couple of years, was notable for several reasons. With few exceptions, people just didn’t cross town like that. DC and Marvel, still very much the only games in town (and that town was New York City, disguised as Metropolis and Gotham at DC but very much fetishised as the real Big Apple at Marvel — an important distinction, as DC’s faux New Yorks looked generic, but the likes of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko could put real people in real clothes in a palpably real NYC that let imaginative kids dramatise their own landscapes with fantastic figures in real spaces and their own fields of vision) kept very separate creative stables.
(Herb Trimpe said, on a convention panel in 2008: “When he left, Kirby somehow left a cigar butt behind. Marie Severin made a very elaborate plaque out of it, labeling it ‘Jack Kirby’s Last Cigar at Marvel,’ with fancy scroll work on it, and hung it on the wall with the title: ‘Kirby Was Here.'”)
After Jack, this almost became business as usual — work at Marvel until the milk goes sour, cross town to DC until it drives you crazy, go back to Marvel (where, in the 1970s, the editor-in-chief has probably been replaced three or four times during your absence), catch the bus back to DC when you can no longer stand the current maniac in charge at Marvel.
Editors-in-chief of Marvel Comics in the 1970s:
(A quick, odd story. In late 1969, not long before Jack crossed town, Marv Wolfman and Gerry conway were at DC, working on their “mystery” titles. On which writers were not credited. Gerry Conway, in writing a preface to a Wolfman story, had a character say the story was told to him “BY A WOLFMAN.” The Comics Code forbade mention of wolfmen and werewolves at the time, for fear the very words would have children masturbating into corpses. So Conway said, no, that’s the guy’s actual name. It seems the only effective bypass was to actually credit Wolfman as writer, to satisfy the Code. After which, ALL the writers wanted printed credits. And, of course, got them.)
Archie Goodwin, a wonderful writer and editor who had (unusually) nothing but friends in this business (and, in fact, he made a useful yardstick, because if you didn’t like Archie, it tended to mean you were a piece of shit), must’ve made the crosstown trip five or six times, as well as working at other comics companies (something you only saw with commercial creators of note a few times prior to the bloom of independent “overground” publishing in the 1980s).
(Archie is important to comics, and our narrative, for many reasons, not least for this: the two-year period he was editor-in-chief at Marvel fell across Marvel’s most experimental years. It was, in fact, during Archie’s years at Marvel’s helm — 1976 to 1978 — that Jack returned to Marvel. Also, some credit Archie with actually saving Marvel by, in 1977, securing the rights to and writing the adaptation and licensed continuation of STAR WARS. Kirby/Druillet supercollision, TARDIS noises, etc)
(I once asked him how he got books like HOWARD THE DUCK and OMEGA THE UNKNOWN out of the house, so bizarrely did they sit next to standard output of the time. And Archie told me that the lack of oversight, due to low staffing and the sheer volume of material they had to put out, meant that “we could pretty much do anything…”)
But when Jack crossed to DC, by arrangement with DC’s Editorial Director Carmine Infantino… that was still a big deal. The idea was that Jack would have complete creative control, Jack freed to do anything. This would turn out to be a defining moment, for Jack and for Carmine. Though not in a way that either of them expected.
Go and read this – http://www.filamentmagazine.com/fundraise.aspx – and marvel at a country where not one women’s magazine is allowed to print a male erection for fear of “upsetting women’s groups” while the top shelf of every newsagent in the country is full of magazines that allow you to actually see right up into a women’s guts.
I can be sent things via Avatar Press at Avatar Press, 515 N. Century Blvd., Rantoul, IL 61866, USA, but I cannot promise a response or a review. Although, let’s be honest, it’s fairly likely, as eventually the ANYTHING section will need to be about comics. You can email me at email@example.com, but I warn you, it’s a dump address, not my regular email address, so it can take me a few days to check it.
DO ANYTHING IS © WARREN ELLIS 2009, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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