"Before Stephen King, there was another King."
"With these enigmatic words, Joe Quesada began another highly-anticipated Cup O' Joe Panel. Referring to last year's announcement that Stephen King would bring his 'Dark Tower' series to Marvel as a comic in 2007, Joe was talking about a king at Marvel: Jack Kirby.
"For specifics, Joe brought up Jack's daughter Lisa. She explained that, while going through her late father's sketches, she stumbled upon some that she didn't recognize from any of his published work. Thus, 'Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters' was born. The first of this six-issue limited series will be out in July, in time for the San Diego Comic Con. Tom Breevort remarked, 'it's good to have a Kirby back at Marvel.' Quesada agreed. The series is a creator-owned property and will be published through Marvel's Icon imprint.
"Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters features characters and concepts created by the late Jack Kirby, which have been expanded upon by his daughter Lisa Kirby and Mike Thibodeaux. It's a very personal story for Lisa, metaphorically dealing with her relationship with her father against a cosmic backdrop of fantastic characters and wild vistas. It also features appearances by other Kirby-owned characters such as Captain Victory."
You know what? No. This isn't a good thing. I know a lot of people will get on my case for saying this -- "How can you possibly know what Jack would have wanted? These are his family and friends, where does someone who never knew him get off claiming to know his wishes better than they do?" -- but nonetheless, I still feel totally confident in saying Jack would not have wanted this.
Marvel reprinting his actual work? Yes. Marvel doing right by his family? Absolutely yes. People trading on his name and some unpublished sketches to sell work that isn't his? Not so much.
I don't mean this as an attack on Marvel -- one benefit of having worked in the Marvel offices myself is the knowledge that it's just a company, not a monolithic conscious entity capable of good or bad intentions. Even during Jack's legal struggle with earlier management, there were individual people at Marvel who loved Jack and were committed to doing whatever they could to support him. And I really don't want this to come across as an insult to Tom Brevoort, who's a really good guy of exceptional taste and has been involved with pretty much every good thing Marvel has published in many years.
And Lisa Kirby? Honestly, believe it or not, I have nothing but sympathy for her position. During my childhood, my dad was the doctor in a small town; I grew up with him being a local "celebrity" and constantly had people telling me what an amazing person he was, how he was a saint and how fortunate I was to have him as my father. Well, yes, sure, I totally agree -- but when a guy is your father and you know his failings and weaknesses and all the times you've argued with him over stupid things, it's mind-bendingly weird to cope with people who are his fans and idolize him. And I can well imagine how offended I'd be if some obnoxious prick came along and claimed to know better than I do what my father would have wanted.
(My dad later ran several hospitals and travelled all over the world as a medical expert in his field. He hated being away from home even overnight, and would fly cross-country twice in a day rather than be put up one night in the most expensive hotel suite in another city. But I did get a major kick out of him becoming world famous...)
But if someone set up a medical practice claiming to be his heir -- even if I were to declare myself a doctor because I happened to be his son, and then put his name on the shingle -- that would still be wrong. My dad was an amazing doctor (I'm biased, yes, but it's still true) but he got that way through a combination of individual gifts AND decades of hard work. He wasn't just born into it, and I didn't get it through his seed or even by being around him for forty years.
I really, really, really want the Kirby family to have a place of honor and respect. He loved his family and worked hard to provide for them and they were at the center of his art. Bless them for that. But they would all do well to become more sensible conservators of his legacy. Things like the Kirby Museum and supporting more reprinting of his work are absolutely right: things that will keep his name and work in front of the public so that future generations will see the stuff from which all later comics derive. But when work by other people is put out with the "Jack Kirby" name slapped on it, it has the tragic effect of diluting his reputation rather than enhancing it. If new readers are unimpressed by it, this will be their negative impression of "Jack Kirby" and it will only put them off seeking out the real thing.
By way of another analogy: for many years, I thought I hated blues music. I couldn't understand this, because I always loved African-American musical styles, but the blues I'd heard left me cold. When I was an adult, I heard Lightning Hopkins and Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker for the first time and immediately fell in love. Only then did I understand what I'd been thinking of as "blues music" was the watered-down copies by the Rolling Stones (great at their own stuff, but lousy blues musicians) or the Yardbirds or Eric Clapton -- in other words, overly mannered and stylized copies by later imitators. Bad imitations and improper branding could have kept me away from the real thing my whole life, and that would have been a horrible shame.
Please, guys, please...think about the consequences of this sort of thing. I want the Kirby legacy to be strong as much as anyone in the world does. Keep the work he actually did, and finished, and signed off on, and approved out there in front of the public. But don't dilute it with grave rubbings and counterfeit work, or you'll end up without that legacy.