Sunday, January 13, 2013


What's not in any kind of debate is that in the late 1950s and into 1960, the comic book arm of Martin Goodman's outfit was constantly under threat of being shut completely down. It was marginally profitable, at best, despite having a competent editor and a stable of reliable and highly talented artist/writers.

Among the many problems was that the line was distributed by their chief competitor, National Periodicals. As such, they were bound by contract to produce only a limited number of titles per month. Goodman was apparently not happy with the bottom line and his threat to shut down the comics division to concentrate on other parts of the company were a near-constant probability.

Jack Kirby had come on board at the nascent Marvel when he butted heads with an editor at DC. The plain simple fact of the matter was that the comic book marketplace, which had been shrinking since EC had vanished from the scene and the industry had been saddled with the onerous Comics Code Authority, was entering very dark days, indeed. But Kirby had been telling Lee and Goodman that he could turn the company around if only they would cut him loose to perform magic.

The revisionist superhero was out of the bag at DC, and sales were soaring on their reintroduction and revitalization of the superhero lines. The Flash, The Justice League, Challengers of the Unknown, and others were going great guns for DC. All Marvel had to do, argued Kirby, was follow suit. Superheroes were hot again, and there was no one better placed in the industry to create new superheroes than Jack Kirby.

Superheroes were in his blood. Yeah, he could do anything, but that was his passion. Kirby could write and illustrate romance, western, crime, adventure, science, animal, biography comics. And more! But superheroes were his forte' and it was only that they'd been out of favor for so long that he had dabbled in them only occasionally over the years since the Golden Age of comics.

"Put me in, Coach," Kirby kept saying.

Finally, Goodman and Lee listened, and let Kirby create and write and illustrate THE FANTASTIC FOUR.

It was a hit. A huge hit. Sales dwarfed those of the monster and science fiction titles that the company had been relying on for the bottom line. They let Kirby create more stuff. The Incredible Hulk. The Avengers. Thor. Ant Man. Iron Man. Daredevil. All of this, and more, flowed out of him and the sales were soon off the charts for the little company owned and operated by Martin Goodman.

Kirby had been right. "Just put me in, Coach."

The quarterback had scored not just a touchdown, but had won the Super Bowl.

My copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #33. By this time Kirby was really breaking out with stunning ideas and new ways of storytelling! This cover blew my mind as a kid. I'd never seen collages in comics and the art here dropped me like a well placed punch. By this time, Goodman and Lee were allowing Kirby to stray from the formula that had so far made them successful. Why argue with the numbers? Give the guy his lead and let him run! Kirby did it all, and he did it with no one's help. He didn't need anyone's help. He created it all, establishing the Marvel Universe that would lead to many billions of dollars in revenue that has supported so many. Kirby was King!


Kirk G said...

This was one of my very first Jack Kirby FF stories. And oddly enough, the collection that I "inherited" from a yard sale included 18, 22, 25, 28, 33, 36, 39 44-50. I have often wondered why until it hit me. The kid had visitation rights with the dad every three months, and the dad bought him an FF comic...until the kid discovered he could buy them monthly himself. So, I was never surprised by the photo effect. They were just part of the FF stories from day one for me. I was SO lucky...

James Robert Smith said...

I love stumbling upon great collections of old comics. It happens now and again.

The only thing I miss about having a comic shop are the nice collections that would come through the door every few months. About three times a year I'd see Golden Age comics walk in with someone. About six times a year a fantastic Silver Age collection would roll in.

I do miss that about retailing comics. But nothing else.

Kirk G said...

Whoever donated their collection to the school that held the yard sale I raided, had good taste in comic artists. There were runs of Tales of Suspense from where Colan took over on Iron Man...Jack Kirby's Thor...Fantastic Four, and of course, the cross-over for Subby and IM in TOA as well. Although there were some clunkers, most all the artwork was primo in the height of the Silver Age, as it would become known.

James Robert Smith said...

That's the way to find the stuff! Every once in a great while I'll stumble upon old comics that way. But not so often as in the old days.