Tom Scioli is no stranger to Jack Kirby and Kirby’s comics. In much of his work, like Godland and IDW’a Go-Bots, Scioli’s Kirby love is evident in the art. And then, of course, there is his recent Fantastic Four: Grand Design, where Scioli re-told those early Lee/Kirby FF’s through the Grand Design lens. Now the cartoonist is releasing JACK KIRBY: THE EPIC LIFE OF THE KING OF COMICS, an actual biography of the man himself. Tom took a little time to answer a few questions for us. Enjoy!
Monkeys Fighting Robots: So Tom, thanks for talking to us. How have you been holding up during this national crisis?
Tom Scioli: I’m hanging in there! How about you?
MFR: Not too bad! So last time we talked, it was about Fantastic Four: Grand Design. There you adapted a bunch of Kirby comics. But now, with your new book, Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics, you are taking on the life of the man himself. Have you always wanted to do a Kirby biography? What led to it happening?
Scioli: It’s always been a dream of mine. I’ve always wanted to read a Jack Kirby comics autobiography, but other than one amazing short story (Street Code), such a thing doesn’t exist. So the next best thing is to make one. I started rolling it out on instagram and Twitter and my website ambarb.com around the time of Jack’s 100th birthday and it just went from there.
MFR: Why do you think a Kirby biography is so appealing? Especially a cartoon one like yours.
Scioli: He’s one of the primary creators of the pop culture landscape we live in. Captain. America, Avengers, X-Men—the list goes on and on. It’s our modern mythology, and he created and co-created it in his basement. Its staggering when you look at it, one after the other. It’s his life story done in the medium he pioneered, using the tool he used, the pencil. He spent so many hours filling squares with visual story. This is the perfect marriage of form and content.
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MFR: The way you draw Jack is very specific, especially compared to the other characters. What led to this wise decision?
Scioli: The story is told in the first person. I wanted the reader to live Jack’s life, see things through his eyes. There’s a technique Scott McCloud refers to in Understanding Comics he calls the “masking” effect. Basically the simpler and more cartoony you draw a character, the more the reader will identify with them. When you put that character in a naturalistic environment, among realistic-looking characters, you have a strong identification with a detailed and sensual world to interact with and explore. There are lots of other effects that come out of that decision, but my main conscious reason for doing it was that.
MFR: Did you have a specific narrative style planned out, like a specific page layout, structure, panel size, etc?
Scioli: I mainly used the six-panel grid, which was Kirby’s preferred method during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. I like it for the same reasons Kirby did. It emphasizes the story and what happens within the panels rather than the panels themselves. It’s versatile and almost invisible.
MFR: What was your creative process on this like? Did it involve a lot of research?
Scioli: Yes nonstop research, checking and rechecking, figuring out what came when who was where. I was course-correcting and narrowing my focus as I worked on each page.
MFR: Did you get any feedback along the way from any Kirby scholars or people who knew him?
Scioli: I have a small group of people who I share my work with. The editor Patrick Barb and the team at TenSpeed were part of the process. The people I really would’ve liked to talk with are no longer with us.
MFR: How long do you think you worked on this from start to finish?
Scioli: I’ve lost track. All the years I spent studying Kirby’s life and work factor into this. I’ve been learning and relearning his life story since the 90s. Without that priming, this would’ve been a very different process.
MFR: Was there a specific period in Kirby’s life you were most excited to create on the page? Or a specific Kirby comic moment?
Scioli: I’m a huge fan of his 70s work so I was looking forward to that. All the Gangs of New York stuff from his childhood is so colorful and so much fun and works its way into his Kid Gang comics like The Newsboy Legion. The relationship with Stan is fun, the reversals of fortune, how Stan starts out as this annoying kid, the office boy, and then years later Kirby comes back to Marvel and Stan’s running the place. I had a surprisingly good time covering Jack’s tv animation work in the 80s. That was the stuff I grew up with and my first exposure to Kirby’s work. Stuff like Thundarr the Barbarian, the Mr. T cartoon and a Turbo Teen.
MFR: What was the hardest part of Kirby’s life to tackle?
Scioli: I was not looking forward to covering his health decline and death. That was emotionally tough to draw and reckon with.
MFR: Do you have a personal favorite Kirby comic or image?
Scioli: My favorite Kirby comic is New Gods #7, ‘The Pact. When you asked that question, the first image that came to mind was the double spread of Metron and the Promethean Giant from New Gods #5. That’s my favorite Jack Kirby single image.
MFR: Would you want to do any other comics-related biographies?
Scioli: Yes, but Jack Kirby is a tough act to follow.
MFR: Where can readers get a copy of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics?
MFR: Are you working on anything new you would care to talk about?
Scioli: I’m in that in-between phase where I haven’t decided what my next project will be. I’m tinkering, playing with ideas hoping they’ll grow into something or point me in the direction of what the next thing will be.
MFR: Quick Cartoonist Kayfabe question. Are you going to be back regularly?
Scioli: I was so busy working on this book and Fantastic Four: Grand Design that I was pretty unavailable. Once that wrapped, the pandemic hit. I was on an episode recently and I’ll probably do some more in the near future
Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics is out July 14th, 2020.
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