Glenn Fleming is the director of the upcoming documentary Jack Kirby: My Personal Journey which will be available through his website. I had a chance to talk about the film and legendary creator.
Graphic Policy: Congratulations Glenn, on reaching your goal, so please tell us how you got into filmmaking?
Glenn Fleming: Thanks. As of this writing the Kickstarter project has reached almost £2,000 and 101 backers. This is well over my goal and I’m grateful to everyone who has backed the project. In answer to your question, I suppose i got ‘into’ filmmaking the same day I saw my dad filming us on holiday with his Super 8mm cine camera – when I was about six years old! I dabbled in photography at Art College many years later, movies and still, and I’ve produced many short films which are on You Tube, but I wouldn’t say I was a professional ‘film maker’; I’m really an artist and writer.
GP: Is this your first documentary? If not, where have we seen your work before?
GF: This film is not really a ‘documentary’ of sorts. As it says in the title, the film is about my journey to meet Jack.
GP: So, what inspired you initially to do this film?
GF: In the mid 80s, having not read a comic for 15 years, I found Kirby’s ‘Silver Star’ and ‘Captain Victory’. I also bought ‘The Comics Journal’ and read about Jack’s efforts to get his original art back from Marvel. I was surprised, but glad, he was still alive and thought wouldn’t it be cool to meet him. From there I met some Californians on holiday who lived near Jack. One thing led to another and I ended up knocking on Jack’s door. This is all covered in the film!
GP: Can we expect any interviews with some comic book writers or artists?
GF: Maybe. I would do it, of course, but my passion for the work of others is not the same; Jack was the best of the best, the most innovative comics creator in history. Everyone else just copies his blue print. I have interviewed other creators and published those interviews in my magazines ‘Crikey! The Great British Comics Magazine’, hard copies of which are still available and more recently in my on-line magazine, ‘Comics Unlimited’. Readers can still get all this stuff, should they wish it.
GP: At what point growing up and going to their house, did you realize just how much of a star, Jack Kirby was?
GF: I knew he was a star the first time I read those Marvel comics. They were, and remain, the best. No-one has come forward with Jack’s eye for storytelling, character deigns, layout or just sheer imagination. You can never say never, but I have to doubt there will ever be a force like him again.
GP: Please tell us one of your fondest memories of Jack and Roz Kirby?
GF: I have a lot of memories! I went to his house twice, so I was with him around 12 hours in total. Not long enough! My first memory is of how small he was; such a small frame, but so powerful and upright. His imagination was the size of a planet, but such a small man. My main memory of Roz was how beautiful she was. And such a lovely woman, you couldn’t help but fall in love with her. And strong – she protected her man and family. Roz Kirby is the reason we have Jack Kirby; she stood behind him every step of the way and let him get on with telling his stories. Another memory that brings a smile to my face was his grandson, Jeremy. Jeremy was about 12 at that time and he came around for his lunch when I was there. I remember Roz telling us he liked his pizza ‘napalmed’. Funny things stick in your head!
GP: Were you ever at their house, at the genesis of one of his characters that we all know?
GF: No! I was there in the late 80s and Jack had retired from the mainstream by then. It would have been cool to stand behind him and watch him draw Galactus for the first time – but no, I wasn’t there for any of that.
GP: Do you remember any characters that he created that did not quite work out, but he spent inordinate amount of time working on it?
GF: I think some of his peripheral characters could have been some of his best. This is my opinion and Jack never mentioned any of this: the character ‘Him’ from the FF was going to be better than the Surfer; the guy was incredible, another ‘god’ (and Jack was full of gods!). I don’t imagine Jack spent a lot of time on that character, but his potential, like all of Jack’s creations, was incredible. Sadly, the character didn’t go the way Jack would have taken him, by any means. Another character I always liked who never went as far as he should, was ‘Mantis’ from ‘The New Gods’. I always liked that character. I thought there was a lot of potential in ‘Silver Star’, but that only lasted six issues.
GP: When you were at their house, did you meet any famous writers/artists?
GF: No – it was just another day at the Kirby household! Jack talking about the war, Roz making lunch and me open jawed, in total awe and wanting to stay there for the next ten years.
GP: Do you remember any specific issue of his, you held, that is now considered classic?
GF: Many. I had them all. FF, Spidey, Avenger, X-Men – I had all the first issues. Unfortunately, my mother had me throw them away. Yep – she made me get rid of them when I was sixteen. Six hundred of them. Six hundred. I have a few that I managed to keep hold of, but not the full series that I could have, and should have, saved. Imagine if Jack had signed that FF #1 for me!!
GP: In your interview with Mr. Kirby, what was his favorite book when he worked at Marvel?
GF: I didn’t ask him specific questions. Jack had been ill and I didn’t want to pressure him or upset him. I just let him talk. The results are, I think, better than a set of questions. The best interviewers are the people who let people talk, let them go where they want to go. It’s more revealing that way.
GP: In your interview with Mr. Kirby, what was his favorite book when he worked at DC?
GF: Jack said DC were a fine company to work for, though he didn’t mention specific books or characters. I think he was honoured to draw Superman, but he preferred to write and draw his own characters. If you look at his ‘Jimmy Olsen’, an established DC character, you can see Jack taking that character way and above anything that had gone before. The same with ‘Superman’ – such a famous, iconic and powerful character, with a long and great history, pushed almost into the background, almost a secondary character, when he appeared in ‘Forever People’. That’s how good Jack was; he took established things and did things that pushed it further and further.
GP: In your interview with Mr. Kirby, what was his favorite book when he did not work at DC or Marvel?
GF: I think Jack enjoyed whatever he was working on at the time. I truly believe that.
GP: In your interview with Mr. Kirby, what was his favorite book that he worked on, period?
GF: I don’t know if he had any ‘favourite’ book, but my money would be on ‘Captain America’.
GP: Do you remember where you were, when you heard of his passing?
GF: I do. I was about to go into my office when a colleague of mine blurted out, “Jack Kirby’s dead.” Talk about sensitivity. I didn’t do much work that day.
GP: Before he passed, when was the last time you saw him? And do you remember what was the last thing he told you?
GF: I last saw Jack in October 1991. As I shook his hand, his last words were, “Thanks for coming by.” I wish I’d said what I had said the first time I was leaving. I said, “I hope we meet again.” Jack replied, “We will.” And we did. I wish I’d said that again and maybe it would have happened.
GP: What was your favorite book that he worked on?
GF: ‘The Fantastic Four’ and ‘The Eternals’. Going back to a previous question, ‘The Eternals’ should have been Jack’s second hundred issue series; what a ride that would have been.
GP: What was your favorite character that he created?
GF: Again, too many, but if you held me down… Captain America. The proof is longevity. Cap is as iconic as Superman and Batman. They are the three most enduring characters in comic history. And will continue to be.
GP: What can we expect from this documentary?
GF: Just Jack talking about his life, his service in the Army and general chat. As I said, I didn’t go armed with specific questions. I wanted the talk to be free and easy for Jack. Jack liked to talk and was a funny guy. This is revealed in the film. I often think about him; how such a simple, loving and talented man could pull entire universes from his imagination, draw them out and entertain us all. In realty, Jack was entertaining himself. All we had to do was watch while he had a great time. And, the more people watched, the happier he was and the further into his mind he ventured. Maybe he was trying to get away from us all!
GP: Is there anything in the documentary that the public and even die hard Kirby fans, would be surprised to find out about?
GF: A fifteen-year-old Jacob Kurtzburg flying upside down in a small aircraft over the skyscrapers of Manhattan! That would make anybody’s hair stand on end – guaranteed!
GP: This week, which would be his 100th birthday, what do you think he would say about the state of comics today? The state of his creations?
GF: I haven’t read a ‘new’ comic in thirty years and I know Jack didn’t look at his after they were published. He told me so. As for the ‘state’ comics are in today… well, I see a lot of exaggerated posing, exaggerated chests pushed out and exaggerated bad anatomy and, to top it all, very poor storytelling. Sure, Jack’s anatomy was exaggerated, but he knew the real stuff, so he was able to exaggerate; his woman were beautiful, though not semi pornographic, and his storytelling was… well, second to none. Jack knew how to tell a story. Without good, dynamic and clear storytelling it doesn’t matter how well the figures are drawn, how much ‘shine’ is shown on armour and how great the explosions are rendered. The story is everything. Jack Kirby was the master of that. He was the master at storytelling. And pretty good at drawing, too!
GP: Do you think he would still be making comics?
GF: No. I think he had said all he had to say and left enough for us to mine for the next hundred years. I think any sadness he may have had was that someone else hasn’t come forward to pick up his ‘pencil’ and move the medium on, rather than simply rehash his work. Tall order, though!
GP: Lastly, what do you think is the biggest misconception of Mr. Kirby?
GF: In my opinion, the biggest misconception of Jack Kirby is that people still believe, too many people still believe, that he was ‘just’ a penciler. As he told me, he created them all and he wrote them all. To me, this is plain to see, take a long look at his career time line. Jack Kirby was a genius, and, like all true genius’, he was a simple and honest person, doing his best and, in his words, “Having a great time!”