Original Art Stories: Mike Esposito & Jack Kirby
No matter how good an interview is there'll always be someone who'll be upset that a certain topic wasn't covered in detail. In this case there's been mention that Mike hasn't spoken about Jack Kirby, not that I expect him to. Kirby didn't feature all that much in Mike's life or career, he worked with him on a very infrequent basis and clearly spent more time and effort on other artists such as Ross, John Romita, Don Heck, George Tuska and Gil Kane to name but a few. Still as some people like to read anything relating to Kirby I've decided to post Mike's thoughts and comments about the man here, just to compliment Bryan's interview. Have a read, then scoot on over and enjoy Bryan's comprehensive interview, and check out some of his others to boot. There's well worth the time and effort.
I first met Jack Kirby when I went bankrupt. He and Joe Simon took over a bunch of titles for the same distributor that I had that I was supposed to do with Ross but we had a falling out with the distributor. We did a couple of stories for Jack. Kirby was a cigar chomping, fast talking guy. He was a good guy. Joe Simon was more the businessman of the two, just like with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito I was more the business guy because Ross was very introverted.
When he inked Kirby, Johnny Romita would try and keep the same look. That look is, and you don’t try and fix it, those fingers are supposed to be square. The stress lines on the muscles are supposed to be long, sweeping lines. Once you slow it down and try to make it look realistic then it stops being Kirby. You’ve got to be designing when you ink it. He did breakdowns for me for the Hulk when I used to pencil it back in 1965. Stan Lee wanted me to do it and I said, “I don’t know Kirby’s technique”. He said “Look, we’ll pay you as a penciller”, because it was a scribble layout. Very, very rough. No features at all on the faces. So naturally I started to draw the way I was taught to draw. He said, “That’s not Kirby. You’ve got a real nose there. You’ve got to put two holes in the face” because Kirby never really drew a nose, he always just had two holes.
The guy who I think did the greatest job on Kirby was Joe Sinnott. Sinnott made it look three-dimensional. Their Fantastic Four was beautiful stuff. I’m sure that Kirby didn’t particularly like it because it didn’t look like Kirby. He so often did that. He gave a quality, a beauty, that wasn’t always there in the pencils. Beautiful stuff. Mike Royer was also very good. Kirby seemed to like him because he made it look like Kirby, the thick lines and everything, the very flat, straight lines on the muscles. Royer followed his stuff.
I’ve seen original art in the Jack Kirby Collector. They’ve got pencilled pages in there and they’re beautiful. As an artist I can appreciate them. I look at them and I say, “My God, I don’t think I could ink it that way” the way it looks in pencil. I would tend to put too much emotion in a line, flex my brush or flex my pen to get thick or thin, but you can’t do that. When the arm is coming towards you, with the knuckle and fingers, they’re just sticks coming out. You can’t put knuckles on them; you can’t make them look like a real finger. You slow it down and the excitement is gone, the movement.
To be a freelancer meant that you had to jump ahead before the guy behind me collapsed. Go to the next one, and the next one, because freelancers have to do that. You can’t have your allegiance to just the one publisher, you can’t. Because even though they say they’ll give you a contract, they want you as an exclusive, you still get screwed in the end. When push comes to shove, you’ll be shoved. Unfortunately that’s the nature of the beast. If you were a guy like Kirby, who was important to Stan that it would never work out bad, he would still be top drawer. He would still be the top guy. He would still get all the best deals. Certain guys, when things would get rough, would be weeded out because the ship is sinking so it’s every man for himself. Not with a guy like Kirby. Kirby left on his own, not because things got slow or anything like that, he just went to DC. He had the name; he could do anything he wanted. He did some nice stuff at DC with The Fourth World material.
What he was doing in a sense was taking some of Marvel with him. I think Stan knew that, because all of these things were developed between the two guys. So it was easy for him when he went to DC to give DC what they were lacking in their approach that Marvel had. And it was like industries that swap engineers, executives. By him going to DC he was able to give them the real look of Marvel, and the way they approached things, the type of characters. They were pretty good, too. He had some success with them. But then again you’ve got to remember that comics were dying at that time. So there wasn’t much he could do to resurrect their status of being the top company anymore, because the only ones that were holding on were Marvel really. The Marvel Universe, that was a great idea, all the books that came out on each character and they’d interact within their own universe.