As many of you probably know, when I was the publisher at Malibu Comics, I was a witness to (and a minor player in) the birth of Image Comics. It was a crazy, exciting time. Comics were selling at levels the direct market had never seen. The infamous meetings that the Image founders had at DC Comics and Marvel Comics in December 1991 is the stuff of comic industry legend.
Jack Kirby had very strong opinions about the founding of Image Comics and the steps that the creators had taken to liberate themselves from the work-for-hire system at Marvel and DC Comics. How Jack Kirby fits into this story requires a little background.
In the first few hours after the Image news reached the mainstream media, the response can only be described as chaos. Despite Malibu’s attempt to tell the story correctly (as we had agreed with the Image guys), the media didn’t really understand the story we were telling them. The story they “heard” was that seven superstar comic creators had been “stolen” from Marvel by upstart Malibu Comics. While this wasn’t remotely true, it may have been perceived as a juicier story than the reality.
The phones and fax lines at Malibu were burning up with media requests. Our attempts to re-direct them to the various Image creators were met with limited success. Malibu was simply an easier entity to find and contact.
At some point during the first 24-hours after the announcement I found myself on the phone with a producer with one of the Los Angeles based television news programs. Frustrated that I was unwilling to take credit (on Malibu’s behalf) for the coup of “signing” the Marvel creators, the producer was desperate for an angle to get on the air. This producer, however, had really done some serious background work (which I have to admit surprised me).
TV Producer: Doesn’t Jack Kirby live near there?
DWO: Yes, not too far from here.
TV Producer: Do you think he would be willing to talk to us about this story?
DWO: I don’t have any idea.
TV Producer: Do you have his phone number?
DWO: I don’t feel comfortable giving out his phone number, but I can call him and ask.
TV Producer: Great! Call me back as quickly as you can. I want this on the air as soon as possible.
So I found myself calling the home of Jack Kirby, who I had visited and become quite friendly with during my time as the administrator of the Jack Kirby Comics Industry Awards. As was always the case, calling and talking to Jack and Roz Kirby was a pleasure. Even though we had talked many times and enjoyed a friendly relationship throughout the years, being on the phone with Jack was always a little surreal, he was a legendary genius and I was a struggling young publisher that grew up in Southern Minnesota and never dared to dream that I would meet and become friendly with the heroes of my youth.
I passed along the request from the TV news producer and Jack responded enthusiastically, with one condition. “I’ll do it as long as you are there too,” Jack said. My mind went spinning. I was being summoned by the King. I quickly collected myself, assured Jack that I would be happy to help in any way that I could. I called back the TV Producer and made the arrangements.
It was less than 10 miles from the Malibu offices to the Kirby home. To this day, I don’t know why, but I waited outside the Kirby house (I guess I didn’t want to be … well … presumptuous) until I saw the TV reporter and camera crew park across the street. I led them to the front door, where Roz Kirby greeted us with a big smile.
Jack spent about 30 minutes being filmed answering questions about the Image creators and their unprecedented actions to take complete control of their careers and creations. Jack gave them some great quotes about his unbridled support for them and their plans.
During the filming, Roz Kirby took me aside and quietly asked, “Can you stay for a little while after the TV people leave?” Of course, I agreed.
After the reporter and camera crew drove away from the Kirby home to file their report and get it ready for broadcast, Roz broke out the cookies and offered me a soft drink. For the next hour or so, the Kirbys and I sat and talked about state of the comic book market. I have always had as much or more interest in the business side of comics than the characters and storylines. Even though Jack was virtually retired at this point, both he and Roz were up-to-date with even the smallest stories of what was going on in the comics business at the time.
Sitting at their kitchen table and talking with the Jack and Roz at this crazy time in the comic business is one of my fondest memories and one I continue to cherish to this day. I’m indeed a lucky man.
That’s my version of the story.