I recently reviewed Stuf' Said! (2018) by John Morrow, a two-part magazine/ book about the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby dynamic and how it shaped the Marvel Universe. I wanted to know more after reading, so I sent some questions to the book's author, John Morrow, the answers to which he happily obliged. John Morrow began The Jack Kirby Collector in 1994, and it is still being printed today (Stuf Said! is a double-sized issue.) To learn more about John and his work, as well as the other amazing books his company publishes, visit the website at the end of this interview.
Michael Austerlitz (MA): How long did it take you to compile all that info and eventually write the book (magazine?)
John Morrow (JM): Start to finish, it was a concentrated six months of research, although I’d been accumulating material specifically for the book for a couple of years prior. And of course, I started the Jack Kirby Collector back in 1994, so material from probably all of the previous 74 issues went into it somewhere. The actual writing, design, and editing took another four months or so.
MA: Can you describe, for those who don't know, what the Jack Kirby Collector is? (This being the output for Stuf' Said!)
JM: TJKC is an ongoing magazine about the life and career of Jack Kirby, co-creator of the Marvel Universe, DC’s New Gods and Darkseid, and so many more characters and concepts. Each issue features articles about Kirby and his work, interviews with his past co-workers and current creators who are influenced by him, and of course, lots of rare and unseen Kirby artwork, much from his personal files, loaned to me by his family.
MA: What was the impetus for you to start The Jack Kirby Collector? What has kept it going for so long, do you think?
JM: Being a lifelong fan of Kirby, I see how his work has proven to have staying power, so I’m not surprised The Jack Kirby Collector is still going strong after 25 years. He was such a limitless source of imagination in comics, and I’m still finding new concepts that were never produced, and artwork that’s been tucked away in some presentation package or private collection years ago, that I can present to my readers. I just wrapped up issue #77, and it’s got a two-page presentation for a previously unknown character named “Moon-Bear.” In two pages, Jack fleshed out the basic idea and visuals for a potential full series. With creative abilities like that, I don’t see any end in sight for my magazine.
MA: The Jack Kirby Collector has been ongoing for a very long time, and it's apparent you're a Kirby enthusiast and have helped fight for him and his family. One big takeaway from the book I had was that you didn't place blame on Lee, per se, and kept it very balanced. I know many Kirby fans, and this seems a tough task; how did you manage to write everything from an ostensible vantage point?
JM: I appreciate you saying that. While I tried very hard to give both Lee and Kirby the benefit of the doubt throughout, there are many instances where I had to take them to task for some comment they made, or slight of the other, that didn’t match the historical record that exists, or just defies logic or common sense. This happened a lot more with Stan Lee in the book, but that’s to be expected, since Stan was the spokesman for Marvel and made exponentially more statements and did lots more interviews about Marvel and his work there. Kirby was more of the behind-the-scenes creative engine, but still managed to be interviewed a fair amount (just in less visible places, like fanzines, as opposed to Lee being in more newspapers, on radio, and TV). While there’ll always be a few fans on both sides that will feel their guy got mistreated, the overwhelming response I’ve gotten is that it was a very balanced look at both men and their input, and that was my goal with Stuf’ Said.
MA: When did your love of Jack Kirby's work begin? What was the first Kirby piece you saw?
JM: Kamandi #12 around 1973, with him riding a giant grasshopper, was my first real Kirby comic. I may’ve seen a few Kirby images prior to that, but didn’t really make a connection of who it was doing them. I actually got stuck with that issue in a comics trade I made with my best friend, who didn’t want that issue either. So I took it as part of the deal, but put it on the bottom of my reading stack, since it didn’t have any superheroes in it, and I thought the artwork was ugly (with all the square knees and fingers that were a part of Kirby’s style). Once I got to the bottom of the stack, I had nothing else to read, so I gave Kamandi #12 a shot, going into it hating that art. By the last page, something had clicked in my brain, and I was hooked on Kirby for life.
MA: Why did you decide to make this book a double-size edition of The Jack Kirby Collector and not just a regular book?
JM: While it functions well as a standalone book (you don’t have to have read a single issue of The Jack Kirby Collector to enjoy it), I felt it was important to make sure all our regular TJKC subscribers got a copy as part of their subscriptions. This is fundamentally important information to have in understanding Kirby himself, and it’s a close to the “last word” on the Kirby/Lee relationship as I think anyone’s going to come up with. The treatment he got from Marvel, and while working with Stan Lee, explains so much about the work he produced, and how and why his life played out the way it did.
MA: Throughout the book you sprinkle in Jack's art work; I'm sure you've been able to see the originals. Can you describe what they look like on their original sized paper? They must be amazing.
JM: It’s breathtaking to stare at Jack’s originals. Inkers like Mike Royer, Joe Sinnott, even Wally Wood, all brought something special to the pages they worked on, so those inked pages have an additional layer of awe to them, which you can sit and examine for hours, and marvel at their craftsmanship. But for me, there’s nothing better than seeing Kirby’s uninked pencil work. He drew a full sketchbook of his characters as a Valentine’s Day present for his wife Roz in the 1970s, and his family loaned me that priceless artifact to scan years ago. I was terrified something would happen to it while it was under my care, but it was worth the stress to get to see all those pages of his pencil work. (Spoiler alert: I was able to return the sketchbook safely to his family!)
MA: You get into Jack's fight for his original art quite a bit in the book. My understanding is that Neal Adams also had a lot to do with getting artists their original art. Did this play into Jack receiving some of his?
JM: Neal has always been a champion of artists’ rights and was responsible for getting artwork return practices changed in the 1970s, but despite that, Marvel still withheld art only from Kirby during their long legal battle. I’m not aware of Neal being directly involved in Jack’s case, but it was so complicated (since Kirby created or co-created virtually all the characters the Marvel Universe is built on), that mostly only attorneys were dealing with it early on. The fan outrage in the 1980s over Marvel’s mistreatment of Kirby did play a huge part in him finally getting back a small portion of the art he produced, as it turned up the heat publicly on the company to try to make amends. But the 2014 creator-credit settlement finally has set things right as far as I’m concerned, and Jack now gets fully credited for his concepts.
MA: You have access to so many interviews with industry legends; have you met them all? Among the ones you have, who really stands out?
JM: After 25 years of producing a boatload of books and magazines about comics history, it’s tough to pick just a couple. Meeting my childhood heroes in person has been eye-opening in the best way. Almost to a person, they’ve lived up to my expectations of how honest, generous, and talented I always pictured them to be when I was reading comics as a kid. Comics creators are just the best people around, probably because they themselves grew up reading comics, which teach kids right from wrong, and respect for authority and to help others. But of them all, Kirby is the prime example of what a comics creator should be as a person. And I try to conduct myself and TwoMorrows Publishing in a manner that he’d be proud to be associated with.
MA: It must be thrilling to see Jack getting his accolades now, and Ditko and the rest of that bunch. What's it feel like, having fought hard for him to be recognized?
JM: The moment in 2014 when I heard that Marvel had reached a settlement with the Kirby family over crediting Jack, was a mind-blowing rush. My phone rang off the hook all that day with old friends, just calling to celebrate the end of a long battle. I was deposed by Disney’s lawyers in the legal case—and it was such a surreal experience to be in that legal conference room, with attorneys and a court stenographer there recording every word I said—and then to think back to 1994, when I started The Jack Kirby Collector as a modest 16-page, hand-photocopied newsletter that I guessed would last a year at most. Seeing Kirby’s name at the end credits of the Marvel films, and having him recognized outside of comics, is a thrill I can’t really describe, but other longtime Kirby fans know what I’m talking about, because they feel it too.
MA: What do you think would be the most important takeaway from Stuf' Said!?
JM: Stan was definitely more focused on the day to day business, with Marvel’s publisher Martin Goodman in the same office, breathing down his throat to make sales. Jack never could’ve thrived in that environment; he left the business stuff up to his earlier partner Joe Simon, and later to Stan to take care of, so he could focus on creating. I think that’s the main difference between them, and an important takeaway. From his start at Timely Comics in the 1940s, Stan's foremost concerned wasn’t about creating great work, while Jack's always was from his earliest days. Though both guys did both things well, and their work together was groundbreaking, I think the book conveys what a creative engine Kirby was at Marvel in the 1960s, and how Stan refined it and made it marketable and successful, and built Marvel into what it is today. They were both critical to its success, and neither could’ve done it without the other. And I’m glad both are now getting the credit they deserve.
KIRBY & LEE: STUF’ SAID is currently sold out in print form, making it the fastest sellout in TwoMorrows history. An EXPANDED SECOND EDITION will be available in August 2019, with minor corrections, plus 16 extra pages of “Stuf’ Said” by both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. You can pre-order it at www.twomorrows.com or at your local comic book shop using Diamond Comic Distributors Order Code: MAY192003.