Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembering MiamiCon '75

I feel honored to be able to say that I actually met Jack Kirby. I even spoke to him, but to be honest, I as so in awe of the individual I was standing near I found myself at definite loss for words.

The occasion was at the Miami Con, held December 18-21, 1975, and presented at the old Diplomat Hotel. I don’t know how many comic book conventions there were back in the early to mid 1970’s, but as far as I know the Miami Con was the first big one in South Florida. Come to think of it, I don’t know if there was ever a Miami Con II or III. But this one lasted 3 days and included two HUGE guests of honor: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

I couldn’t have been much more than 13 or 14 years old at the time and this was a very big deal to me. Jack Kirby had recently returned to Marvel -- I don’t recall if any of Jack’s new books had hit the stands yet -- and here he was in person! Jack was scheduled to sit in on a “question and answer” panel and then would be out roaming the seller’s area.

I tagged along with two of my older brothers and the minute I walked through the double doors of the Diplomat Hotel, I could tell I as in the midst of something big: dozens and dozens of sellers set up in the hotel’s ballroom, with table after table of comic books both new and old. We were running late and got there just in time. The special guests would be meeting and greeting fans in a special side room.

As I crowded in I could see Jack Kirby bracketed between Neal Adams and another bearded gentlemen I assumed was Stan Lee along with about 6 or 7 other guests -- the names of which escape me. We were running later than I imagined because after several minutes, one of the organizers (I think) announced “…That concludes the question and answer session. Now if you’ll kindly get in a single-file line, you can come up to the table and shake hands with out distinguished guests!” My big chance -- I thought!

One of my brothers was in front of me in line and mumbled something about wanting to tell Stan Lee what a jerk he was for letting Kirby go to DC a few years earlier. I wanted to ask Stan if Kirby would be doing a monthly Silver Surfer comic. Only problem was -- the bearded gentlemen sitting next to Jack wasn’t Stan Lee, it was the James Doohan -- the actor who portrayed “Scotty” on Star Trek!

My brother got right up in Stan/Walter’s face: “…You should have never let Jack go!” stammered by older brother. James/Walter looked back at him. “…I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about!” Then I chimed in, “…And will Jack be penciling the Silver Surfer?” James/Walter responded, “…Why don’t you ask Jack, he’s sitting right next to me!” Everybody broke into laughter. …“But I want to hear it from you -- you’re Stan Lee!” replied my brother.

At that point Neal Adams interrupted. “…You guys are both wrong! Stan Lee won’t be here until Sunday afternoon. This is James Doohan! It took me a second or two to connect the dots and realize that we’d made slight fools of ourselves.

My brother and I both kind of wilted in embarrassment and continued through the line. Jack sat there chuckling and shook our hands and I smiled and opened my mouth and some phrase resembling, “I really enjoyed Kamandi” trickled from my lips.

From there we hit the seller’s room and I picked up a cheap copy of New Gods #1. This whole “convention thing” was overwhelming me. I peeled away from my brother and got lost in the moment. After what seemed like a couple of hours I needed a break. As I headed towards an anonymous corner of the ballroom to rest, it was if the crowds parted and a light beamed down from the ceiling. There he was -- the man himself. There was Jack Kirby on the seller’s floor just hanging around speaking with the occasional fan -- and just a few feet from me!
It took me awhile to recognize him -- Jack seemed bigger then when I saw him seated at the guest table just a few hours earlier. I gathered up enough nerve to go up to him. Jack must have seen me because he gave me a smile and said “How’s it going?” Whatever it was I thought I might want to say to Jack Kirby disappeared from my mind. I shyly stuck my just-purchased copy of New Gods #1 in front of him. “Can you sign this please?” Jack was all too accommodating. Then I asked his advice on what he thought I an aspiring comic book artist should stick in his portfolio. Jack didn’t miss a beat. “…When I started, I made sure I included subjects that were popular at the time. Castles and knights in shining armor. That sort of thing.”

Just when I was ready to ask Jack another question -- I heard a shrill female voice shout out from behind me “…Kirby, let’s go!” I imagine it was Jack’s wife, Ros. And then in an instant, two men approached Jack and they led him away and left me standing there.

So much for my meeting with Jack Kirby. Short and sweet but I had actually talked with the King!

I don’t know if Jack ever returned to Miami and I’m not sure if the Miami Con ever returned either. Before I knew it a flood of new Kirby books was hitting the stands and life was good.

Kirby-l: Ten Years Young (more or less) …and Counting

One of these days I’m actually going to finish a pet project of mine -- that being a Kirby-l internet forum “anniversary” recollection. Trust me -- it’s a lot easier said then done. Until then, I offer up a bit of nostalgia about Kirby-l and salute everyone who has ever taken the time to post a question and add to the never ending discussion about why Jack Kirby was the greatest comic book creator the industry ever knew.

So let’s take a trip back…

It was 1995 or there about, but it seems like yesterday: I was on my computer, killing a few minutes while on a short break from work and enjoying a moment or two surfing the World Wide Web.

Just for kicks I’d decided to type in “comic book artists” on the Yahoo search engine to see what would come up. To my surprise a whole list of talented folks revealed themselves before my very eyes. But the name that shined the most brightly just happened to be Jack Kirby! I was in heaven! Not one, not two, but four websites dedicated to Jack! Hey, life doesn’t get any better than this!

Now you have to understand, back then -- in my mind anyway -- there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the concept of the “internet” and the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey! To me, they were practically one and the same! It’s only been 10 years or so, but this whole internet thing was new to me. How the heck all this information was available at the touch of a finger was almost more than I could handle. So when I noticed Jack Kirby on the ‘net, who was I to ask questions?

If my memory serves me well, one Kirby site I found was a biography of sorts and linked to Hogan’s Alley, another was for the newly-started Jack Kirby Collector, a third was for a British Kirby fanzine – the name of which escapes me at the moment -- and the last internet Kirby listing was for a discussion forum for what is now affectionately known as Kirby-l..! I gotta say it again: when I discovered this I felt like I’d just won the lottery. In short order, I’d subscribed to the Jack Kirby Collector and joined the Kirby-l forum. And that ladies and gentlemen is when the fun started!
Kirby-L was and still is a great meeting place for Kirby fans.

The original driving force for the original version of Kirby-l was a gentleman by the name of Matt Gore. At some point he let go of the reigns and another individual named Chrissie Harper took over. Seeing as how my memory is at least as bad as Stan Lee’s it wouldn’t surprise me if I got the order wrong. But no matter. With Kirby-l it was as if Jack’s concept of the Uni-Mind was realized at long last. On Kirby-L I’d found a place where anyone could pose a question about Jack and talk about it at length with other like-minded individuals. And it wasn’t just the average Joe who participated in this daily sparring. Such Kirby luminaries as Mark Evanier, Mark Sherman, Greg Theakston and others including Bob Heer, Doug Rockstead, Bob Rivard, Mark Mayerson, George Kesidis, Richard Bensam, Olivier Toublan, Ron Evry, Charles Hatfield, Barney Dannelke, Chris Bailey, Ray Owens, Kirk Groeneveld, Gene Kannenberg, John Morrow, Colin Stuart, Mike Rhode, Steve Jones, Mike Manley, Harold May, Rodrigo Baeza, Cord Wiljes, Lou Smith, Glen Gold, Mark Justice, Jon B. Cooke, Keith Lee, Steve Taylor, Steve Chaput, Carlos Benvenutti, J. Kevin Carrier and a whole lot more folks whose names I’ve long since forgot often joined in and added their thoughts and recollections to all things Kirby.

Kirby-L quickly became one of my favorite vices. Back then it was great listening to Mark Evanier wax philosophic about his years spent working as Jack’s assistant. We postulated who may have been the inker on the first issue of Fantastic Fourwhy Vince Colletta was Jack’s worst inker, in addition to great tidbits about the Fourth World Trilogy. Not to mention seeing scans of Jack Kirby artwork that fellow fans shared on line.

It all seems a bit ant-climactic recalling this in 2007. But back in 1995 everything about Kirby-l smacked of a certain “newness”. Funny enough, although the original core group of Kirby-l contributors has either moved on, lost interest or passed away, the same kinds of questions are still being debated today.

These days the Kirby-l forum is moderated by Randy Hoppe and is sponsored by the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center. I have no doubt that 10 years from now, it’ll still be going strong. Just like the legacy of Jack Kirby!