As part of ComicBook.com's day-long celebration of the life and works of Jack Kirby, timed to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of his birth, we have reached out to a number of writers and artists of note to provide their thoughts on "The King."
While most of the tributes are fairly short and will be collected together this evening, some -- including pieces from Image Comics co-founders Rob Liefeld and Erik Larsen -- were robust enough to stand on their own.
The same is true for the following remembrance, from Wynonna Earp creator Beau Smith.
During his career in comics, Smith has also written for numerous iconic characters, including Batman, Spawn, Superman, and Catwoman. He had a memorable run on Guy Gardner: Warrior and worked enough with the the character of Shi to pen a crossover she had with Wolverine.
Beyond superheroes, Smith has worked with Star Wars, The WWF/WWE, Mars Attacks, and 24.
You can find him online via his Twitter feed.
My very first comic book convention was ChicagoCon around 1983-84. I was sent there by Westfield Comics. I wasn’t in the comic book business yet, that didn’t come until 1987, I was there as a reader/collector and fan.
Westfield Comics sent me there to do an article for them on what it was like to experience a major comic book convention for the first time and report my findings back to the other fans, readers and collectors of Westfield Comics.
It was a parade of “Firsts”. It was the first time I had flown, my first convention, I bought my very first Golden Age comic book (The Black Terror) and also the first time I met Jack Kirby.
That’s right, Jack Kirby.
I was on the shuttle bus from the airport to the convention hotel in Rosemont, IL. Sitting across from me in the bus was Jack Kirby and his wife, Roz. I knew it was Jack Kirby from the few photos in Marvel Comics that had been published through the years, trust me, fandom was not the same then as is now with the internet. Back then, there was none of that. A long distance phone call was a big deal back then.
I’ve always been a “I have nothing to lose” kinda guy, probably because I’ve never had much to lose…that always makes it easier. I introduced myself. Jack introduced himself and his wife, Roz. He asked me if I was attending the convention, I told him I was and how it was my first one, as well as first time flying and getting to be with a bunch of people that liked comic books as much as I did. Jack smiled.
He and Roz, like great eagles, took me under their wing right then. They told me what to expect, what it was like, about panels, and all the back issues and meeting folks that write and draw comic books. The peppered me with questions about…Me. What did I do for a living, was I married, did I have kids, what was my favorite comics, how long had I been reading them? That was just scratching the surface of their questions. They made me feel so at home. Any nervous feelings I had about traveling and going to a big convention melted away like butch wax on a crew cut.
The told me about their family, about what they had planned for the convention, and what it was like for him to be working in comics and doing what he loved to do. One of the best things that happened was when Jack asked me if I wrote or could draw, I told him that I couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler, but I wrote…a lot…ever since I was a kid. I told him I’d always felt like I had to write, that I needed to write, to create…That there was never a time that stuff wasn’t in my head. He looked at me, smiled and said “I feel the same way, Beau…Always have, still do.” That almost made my head explode to think, Jack Kirby knew what it was like to be inside my head, because it was the same as in his. (Only MUCH better I’m sure.)
The shuttle bus pulled up to the hotel, I offered to help them with their bags, Jack smiled and said “Sure! Carry this, it’s got my art in it.” He handed me his portfolio. It DID have his art in it. I felt like I was carrying “The Black Box”, “The Football”, The case with the Nuclear Codes that could call down Armageddon for The President. Needless to say, I carried with the same respect.
We got to the check in counter and without missing a beat, Jack told the clerk that I was his friend, Beau Smith, and this was my first time here at the convention and wanted to make sure I got checked in and taken care of. Of course the clerk did so, after all, this was Jack Kirby! (And their job, but Jack made it seem so much more important.)
The bell hop took my luggage to my room and their’s to what I figured must be the penthouse, after all, he was Jack Kirby! Jack told me to come with him and he would get us our proper paperwork, badges and such for the convention. How could I refuse? We went downstairs to where the convention was being held, along the way, everyone stopped Jack and spoke to him, asked for his autograph, or to sign a comic book, (Mostly in ball point pen, not a sharpie.) Each time, Jack would introduce me as his “Friend” and tell them that I was a writer, and soon they’d be asking me to sign my comic books. I couldn’t say a thing, Jack would say this, look at me, smile and wink. I could see he was saying, “Roll with my flow, kid.”
We got to the table and everyone that worked the convention treated Jack as he was—The King. Once again, Jack introduced me to everyone as his friend, and I, for those fleeting moments, was treated like a Prince, or a Duke, or some form of the King’s court. It was beyond addictive.
They didn’t have a badge for me, they had a pass, set up by Westfield Comics, but Jack insisted, friendly like, that I needed a badge like his, he told them I was a writer. It was done quickly. Jack smiled as he saw me with my badge on. I felt like I was knighted by The King…I guess in a way, I had been. At least I sure felt that way.
Jack introduced me to a few more people, and always as “My friend, Beau Smith, The Writer.” I felt like I was caught up in a powerful tornado, I did as Jack said, I rolled with his flow.
Like a true gentleman, Jack told me that he had to meet Roz up in the room and get ready to go meet some people for dinner. He took a piece of paper and wrote down a time and a room number, he told me that he was doing a panel the next day and asked me if I’d come, he said he thought I would enjoy it. I said I’d be there!
The next day I was there at his panel, It was all Jack and it was all great. He told stories about creating characters, about working in the business from the start, through Marvel in the 60’s to his current works. He then took questions from the audience. I was dying to ask him a question, one that I had always dreamed about asking him, but never thought the opportunity would arise. I had forgotten to ask yesterday for a couple of reasons, one, I was just so mesmerized with talking to him and not babbling, and the other, I didn’t wanna seem like some weirdo with a weirder question. Well, after listening to the other questions the other folks in the crowd were asking him, I thought my question almost seemed sane. Almost…
I raised my hand, Jack pointed at me, I stood up and before I could ask, Jack said, “Ah, my buddy, Beau, The Writer!”
That was like someone jamming a log between my ankles in a dead sprint. I stammered and knew I was a color red that no four color comic could ever hope to duplicate. Even so, I got my question out. “Of all the characters you created or drawn, which one is most like you?”
In my head I thought for sure he was gonna say Sgt. Fury. I was wrong.
Without hesitation, he said “The Thing. Ben Grimm.”
He then went on about how they were alike, and it all fell together like a 500 piece puzzle that only one man could put together—Jack Kirby.
After that, every time I read a word balloon from the mouth of Ben Grimm, I head the voice of Jack Kirby. I still do.
Jack Kirby gave me many gifts that weekend, his time, his attention, his respect, but the greatest gift of all was his friendship.
That is priceless.
Happy Birthday, My friend, Happy Birthday, Jack Kirby!