This past Sunday, August 28th, was Jack Kirby’s birthday. He would have been 99 years old. If you’re the type of person that reads the columns on a comics and pop culture website like ComicMix, you probably don’t need me to tell you who he is. I linked to his Wikipedia page there just in case you don’t know. It’ll be our little secret.
Over the years Jack Kirby’s birthday has become an event. Kirby 4 Heroes is celebrated in comic shops across the county. It’s a fundraiser for the Hero Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to helping comic creators in need. The idea is that by using Jack Kirby’s birthday as an event date that the Hero Initiative will be able to get a bump in fundraising numbers. Seeing how they’ve been doing this for years now it must be working to some extent.
This year both myself and fellow columnist Martha Thomases dropped byNew York City’s Carmine Street Comics for Kirby 4 Heroes. They had artists throughout the day including Sean Von Gorman, Fabian Lelay, and Patrick J. Reilly doing sketches for customers as well as original artwork being raffled off from Gregory Benton.
When I first arrived I was talking with Patrick as well as Jon Gorga, the store owner and operator. Mostly just catching up. Not long into our conversation a young man came up to the register proclaiming that he has started working on comics himself as an artist paired up with a writer and asked for our advice. Well, technically he asked for any advice and we all just happened to be standing there.
Patrick started with some of the basics like thumbnailing the pages. The young man pulled out a small notebook showing the work he had done so far. He had started thumbnailing before he knew the term. We all thought that was promising.
Then he told us more about their plans.
The young man went on to discuss how the plan for this project was to produce and publish five graphic novels worth of material all as prequels to set up the main story. We were almost immediately blinded by all the red flags going up. At around this point Martha joined us.
Patrick helped to discourage this young man of that particular course of action by telling him about Story Bibles, which he had not heard of before. Those are the blueprints to a story that’s used in any medium. They can and should be referred to in order to keep the story and it’d characters consistent. Patrick also made an excellent point about working on long form ambitious projects like that and how easy it is to get burned out working on something like that or even just bored over time.
I followed that up with advice I’ve heard from Scott Snyder in the past, but I’m sure many other seasoned writers have given as well: approach comics and storytelling like this is the only shot you’re going to get at all this so you need to tell the absolute best story you have in you. In a situation like this one with someone having five prequels before the main story, you need look through everything you have, pick the best and most compelling story and do that like it’s the only one you’ll get to do. Unfortunately, more often than not that tends to be the case. You’re an incredibly lucky person if you get the opportunity to continue telling your story from there.
Martha added advice she’s heard from Norman Mailer which is also something other experienced people in the story biz have shared for some time: kill your darlings. That is to say that you need to be open to cutting your most treasured moments in your literary works for the greater good of the piece. It might sound absurd at first, but it makes sense as you’re crafting a story if you’re open to it.
After we all got to give some advice and chat a bit more with him, he thanked us all and left. He was very polite and receptive. And to be perfectly honest with all of you, I’ve fallen into the same trappings of wanting to jump right into epic long-form storytelling. A lot of people do. Hopefully he’ll figure out some things along the way and find out if this is what he wants to be doing, though it was hard to not think of that famous Jack Kirby quote, “Comics will break your heart.” Or was that Charles Schulz?
It was nice to spend some time on Jack Kirby’s 99th birthday at a comic shop celebrating the life of one of the most celebrated comic book artists of all time while also meeting a new up and comer that wants to throw their hat in the ring and getting a chance to wish him luck. I bet he wasn’t the only newcomer that wandered into a comic shop this past Sunday either.
Just because Jack Kirby’s birthday has passed us by again doesn’t mean we can’t keep celebrating him though. If you didn’t donate to the Hero Initiative this past Sunday, consider giving here. It’s a good cause to help comic creators in need. The same people that shaped so many of our lives from a young age with their stories like the ones Jack Kirby crafted all those years ago or the ones that young man at Carmine Street Comics this past Sunday might end up crafting himself one day.