So I’ve been digging again recently into the art of Jack Kirby. I mean… I’m ALWAYS digging into the art of Jack Kirby. He’s the King! But even when you’re the King, you still have to make pitches for your kingly ideas. Luckily, Kirby was also the King of the Pitch.
Restlessly creative, he churned out new characters and concepts all the time. It was his thing. Particularly in the 1970s, when he envisioned himself as an idea factory, coming up with new comic series, doing the first issue or two to launch them, and then handing them off to someone else while he moved on to the next exciting thing. That didn’t work out for him. People wanted Kirby doing Kirby, not some hired hand playing with Kirby’s ideas.
But still, he came up with idea after idea in that period, and when he had one that he thought was worth exploring, he’d draw up some concept sketches for it, complete with quick breakdowns of plot, characters, and situations. Something to give his publishers a feel for what he wanted to do. Take OMAC, for instance:
Tight, detailed, and pretty close to what made it to the page. Then there’s Kamandi:
BOOM. The root of a whole epic saga, in one page. But you’ll notice that the Kamandi concept changed a bit in execution. Instead of a boy of today being flung into the future, he’s a boy raised in a sheltered underground complex, very much from the future, but not a part of the world he sets out to explore. That’s the way of these things. Stories change and grow in the telling, and in the editorial give and take of the publishing industry. But I think it’s really interesting to see how these early pitches wound up differing from the final product. Here’s Devil Dinosaur, for instance:
VERY different from the prehistoric adventure book we actually got. Even further removed is DEATH FINGERS…
…a street-level crime comic that eventually morphed into the far more whimsical “Dingbats of Danger Street.” Though Kirby apparently planned at least two issues of Dingbats, that strip made its one and only appearance in First Issue Special, where lots of Kirby’s “idea man” stuff wound up. Another one is Manhunter, for which Kirby did at least two pages of ideas.
It’s really too bad that one didn’t make it past the one issue. It’s crazy-looking stuff. But at least it got one issue. Some strips didn’t even get that. Take Prester John, for example:
Introduced (like so many characters) in the pages of Fantastic Four, Prester John’s only been used since, I think, by Matt Fraction in his Defenders run. But Kirby evidently had some ideas for giving the guy his own strip. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t at least give it a shot as a back-up somewhere.
Of all the lost Kirby projects I’ve run across recently, though, this is the one I regret the most:
That’s right: Kirby wanted to do a Big Barda comic! And the thing is, I don’t this was pitched as a spin-off from Mister Miracle. I think the Barda pitch PRE-DATES Mister Miracle, and was originally conceived as an entirely separate idea. Check out the pitch page:
I know that’s kind of hard to read, so let me fill in the details. This series (which seems completely removed from the Fourth World stuff) would have been about Barda leading the Female Furies as some sort of super-powered commando unit, based on an island headquarters called Beauty Rock(!). The thing that makes me think this pre-dates Mister Miracle is that two of characters from this pitch actually appeared as villains there: The Head, and The Lump. Here, though, the Lump seems to be some kind of animalistic mascot for the team! So I’m assuming that the Big Barda series was rejected, and Kirby decided to introduce her as Mister Miracle’s girlfriend / bodyguard in issue four of that book. I really wish this had been green-lit. I love me some Big Barda, and cool as she is woven into the New Gods material, I’d love it if she’d been given the chance to shine on her own.
Later in his career, Kirby did get the chance to be that idea man he’d always wanted to be, in the animation industry, where even more of his ideas never saw the light of day. Reams of unused Kirby cartoon concepts are floating around out there, but here are a few that I captured my imagination, starting with one that I know I would have gone absolutely crazy for as a kid:
(See?! It’s like Monster Squad! But by JACK FREAKING KIRBY!!)
I like that last one a lot, too, though I’m not sure what the proposed series would have been called. “The Raven Ring,” maybe? Whatever it was called, it looks like a descendant of The Demon, and I’d love for there to be more Kirby supernatural stuff in the world.
Not all of Kirby’s animation projects were rejected, however. Because he (along with fellow funnybook folk Alex Toth and Steve Gerber) was one of the primary creative forces behind one of my all-time favorite Saturday morning cartoons:
Thaaat’s right! It’s THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN!
Created in 1979-80, just after both Kirby and Gerber left Marvel, disgruntled over business dealings with the publisher, Thundarr is wild stuff. One part Conan, one part Kamandi, one part Star Wars, it’s an adolescent fever dream of a cartoon, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi sword-and-sorcery free-for-all, complete with robots, wizards, animal men, and hopeless barbarism masquerading as children’s adventure entertainment. Though its execution doesn’t really live up the premise (or the hype), it’s still one of those shows that, if you watched it at the right age (I was 12, I believe), leaves a lasting impression.
And Kirby was all over the character designs. His initial Thundarr design differs a bit from the final version seen above…
…but it’s basically all there. Kirby did a ton of drawings for this show, from weapon and set-piece designs…
…to full-on action sketches…
…some of which were turned into fancy full-color promotional shots.
(Sure, that second one’s a little blurry. But I couldn’t resist using it, because… RAT-MEN ON MOTORCYCLES!!!)
Aaaaaannnddd… I think that’s all we’ve got room for this week. I’ve got tons more Kirby pencil work to share, though. Everything from sketchbook drawings and fan commissions to rejected covers and unused pages of art so beautiful it hurts me to think that they never saw print. Also: a whole bunch of over-complicated production sketches Kirby did when they asked him to come up with some drawings for a line of New Gods toys. Yeah… I think we’ll be coming back to Kirby again real soon…