A packed room was in attendance on Friday afternoon at NYCC to listed to comics legends John Byrne and Walter Simonson sat down to talk about their love for comics uber-legend Jack Kirby, in celebration of what would have been the King’s 100th birthday. I’m just going to step out of the way and let John and Walt tell it in their own words.
On discovering Kirby:
“DC was bland, to be kind. That fifth issue (of Fantastic Four) had Doctor Doom on the cover. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.” – John Byrne
“The first Jack Kirby I saw was Journey into Mystery #113, I think. It was the return of the Grey Gargoyle. I think it was inked by Chic Stone. I saw in the caption that “We promised Ole’ Jack Kirby a couple of pages to get the lead out. It was rough. It was vital. It was electric and it was mind-boggling.” – Walt Simonson
John’s first Kirby comic was a Fantastic Four comic and Walt’s was a Thor comic. Is it coincidental that John is best known for his Fantastic Four run and Walt for his Thor run?
“Walt’s stuff is bigger than mine. I never felt I was big enough for Thor. My Thor would have been wimpy.” John Byrne
“I was a norse myth fan before I was comics fan. On the other hand, Doctor Doom, I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been blown away by that. I don’t know if it would have had the same effect that Thor did, but it was electric.” – Walt Simonson
“Distribution in Western Canada was terrible beyond words. And my mother thought comics were evil. As I bought Marvel, I had to trade-off and drop DC comics. To buy Fantastic Four, I had to drop Justice League.” – John Byrne
“I was foaming at the mouth. After reading and buying Journey into Mystery #120 and 121, I couldn’t find #122 anywhere. I wrote Marvel Comics a letter asking if I could buy Journey Into Mystery #122 directly from them. Weeks go by and a manilla envelope shows up saying “Dear Walt, couldn’t let you down. Hope you enjoy the issue. – Stan and the gang.” The late Flo Steinberg had written the note. I had stapled the note into the back of the issue. I still have that issue and I have the note.” – Walt Simonson
On meeting the King:
“I met him twice, the first at San Diego. I’ll never forget the first time, because I said “Uh…” I had just started drawing Captain America. I asked him if he could give me any advice for drawing Captain America, and he spoke. And I couldn’t remember any of it.” – John Byrne
“The last time Jack did a convention in New York before he passed away, I spoke to Jack. I can’t remember anything we talked about. Someone took a photo. I’ve never seen a photo. I’d love to see that photo. I wish I talked to him more at San Diego on the times I saw him.” Walt Simonson
The one Jack Kirby character they never got right?
“I was never trying to beat Jack in anything I did. My favorite issues were JiM #113 to about #149. Every issue was something new and exciting. Basically what I tried to do in my run was to bring that excitement in the book that Stan and Jack brought. I didn’t want to be Jack, not that I had the chance. I always felt that if I was going to be someone, I had to be myself. Be the best you can do instead of being a third rate Jack Kirby. There’s so much Jack Kirby stuff under my own stuff because it’s inspired me so much.” – Walt Simonson
“I try to draw the same universe as if I’m drawing from the same live models. During the Fourth World stuff, I felt like I was drawing the most like Kirby.” – John Byrne
“Frank said years ago that the Fourth World stuff felt like the first independant comics. It really does have Jack’s fingerprints on it in the way that most things didn’t up to that point.” – Walt Simonson
“A panel (in a Jack Kirby comic) would be an entire 12 issues today.” John Byrne
“Shooter asked me how I’d like to write Fantastic Four with Bill Sienkiewicz drawing. But Bill decided to do Moon Knight with Doug Moench and they asked me if I wanted to draw it too. And I thought, “Sure, I never tried drugs before. I’ll start with heroin. I ended up on the Fantastic Four as writer and artist almost accidentally.” – John Byrne
Who’s your favorite Kirby inker?
“Sinnott is right there up front, but the stuff that Wally Wood inked is right up there.” – John Byrne
“My understanding is that Woody loved inking Jack. He was a great artist in his own right, but he loved inking Jack.” Walt Simonson
“On Thor, Vinnie Colletta is still my favorite inker.” – Walt Simonson
A small piece of off-topic humor…
“At DC, they had a Green Lantern whose name was Sinestro and nobody thought it was a bad idea.” – John Byrne
Did you ever ink Jack’s pencils?
“I inked one Devil Dinosaur professionally. I inked the cover of issue 8. I’ve done a few Jack Kirby pieces, for Jack Kirby Collector, there’s a Black Racer that I got to ink. I’ve inked Jack a few times, but just the one time, Devil Dinosaur, that I got paid money for.” Walt Simonson
“I also inked a Devil Dinosaur cover. Kirby did not appreciate the FF storyboard I inked, so I blocked it from my mind.” – John Byrne
“I’d love to do a run of the Demon. I’d probably use more of the King Arthur background. I got to write a Demon for Brian Stelfreeze to draw. That was a lot of fun. I’d love to get back on that.” – Walt Simonson
“Just to be that guy, I got to do the Demon, but it was back when DC was at the time very concerned with appeasing Christian fundamentalists.” – John Byrne
Favorite Fourth World moment?
“Just doing the Fourth World is my favorite Fourth World moment.” – John Byrne
“We couldn’t give that book away. I was going to do a story where the Old Gods returned. But when I knew the book was going to die, my editor, the group editor and the publisher took me out to lunch to let me know that it was going to die. That doesn’t happen often. But it gave me time to wrap everyone up. One of the things that always burned my wife, Louise, was Mister Miracle. Orion is the son of hell, raised in heaven, and is a total badass. But Mister Miracle is the son of heaven, sent to hell, and is such a mellow guy. How did he become such a mellow guy? I decided it that what is meant is that Scott Free discovered as a young guy that he has the Anti-Life Equation in him. He’s in a battle and he yells “Stop!” And everything stops: hearts, blood flow, everything. He killed a bunch of people to discover that he had that power. Because of that, he has to be a zen master to not release it again. And I like the idea that the Anti-Life Equation has been living under Darkseid’s nose all this time.” – Walt Simonson
“I did a story about how Darkseid got to look that way, because I couldn’t picture him as Lil’ Darkseid. And I waited for the hate mail to come in. But it didn’t. And I thought, I’m so good, they thought Kirby did this. Ha ha.” – John Byrne
“Nobody knows how it came be called the Fourth World. There’s a legend, but no one can confirm it.” – Walt Simonson
“The legend is that on the fourth issues they were going to put “Fourth World” on all the covers.” – John Byrne
“Jack Kirby wrecked me. I didn’t know the Fourth World books were bimonthly. I thought he was doing three monthly books. So I said, I have to do that. It wasn’t until years later that I noticed the skipped months on the issue covers.” – John Byrne
“Most people get (Kirby Krackle) wrong because they just draw little black dots. But it’s not the little black dots. It’s the negative space.” – John Byrne
“I just draw the little black dots.” – Walt Simonson
If you could own any Kirby art…
“FF #51. This Man, This Monster. There are four stories I love, but that story, it’s a perfect comic book story. It’s so moving. It’s about all the characters, about who they are in the Fantastic Four.” – Walt Simonson
“I have two pages from FF #5. The last page and a page from earlier on. I stand at my Kirby corner and think, “Geez.” – John Byrne
Billy Henehan writes for The Beat. When he’s not writing for The Beat, he writes silly Game of Thrones recaps for Tuesday Night Movies and co-hosts the Run Chat podcast.