Jacob Kurtzberg, a.k.a. Jack Kirby, is arguably the grandfather of the modern superhero, filling the Silver Age with such rich characters as the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the original X-Men, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Galactus, Magneto, the Inhumans, Black Panther, and many more. So many more, in fact, that years after his death, the Kirby Estate had dozens of characters and designs that were either little used or had never seen the light of day.
Fortunately for us, Dynamite Entertainment came to an agreement with the Kirby Estate to unearth these characters and give birth to a brand-new superhero universe with Kirby: Genesis, a 10-issue series that will in turn spin off into three more titles: Captain Victory, Silver Star, and Dragonsbane.
The question is: who on earth can you hand this legacy to with the assurance that they will not only treat Kirby’s creations with respect, but will be able to make something fresh and new out of them? Clearly, you need the talents of Eisner and Harvey Award-winning writer Kurt Busiek, who has more than proven his gift for storytelling with Marvels, with Alex Ross, Avengers Forever, Astro City, Trinity, Conan, and many other series. Fortunately, Dynamite got him, and we got to interview him as part of Dynamite Month. Read on for his thoughtful responses to our questions, and enjoy the five-page preview of Kirby: Genesis #4, out October 26!
TFAW.com: What was the evolution of Kirby: Genesis, and how did you become involved?
Kurt Busiek: As I understand it, it started with Nick Barrucci at Dynamite. He started talking to Lisa Kirby and the Kirby Estate, intending to make a deal to revive various of Kirby’s creator-owned characters–mostly the characters we’d seen before, like Captain Victory and Silver Star, but some others as well.
Nick roped in Alex Ross, who wasn’t going to turn down the chance to work with Kirby concepts and designs, but they needed a writer to pull it all together, so Alex came to me. I was pretty busy, but the lure of Jack Kirby–and of working with Alex again on more than Astro City covers–was a strong one, and when Alex described a scene he wanted to paint–page 8 of #1, basically–all of a sudden, I could see the story, how it could all work.
That image Alex described, of the characters we’ve come to call the Pioneer Two, descending over Earth, just triggered the idea in me, that this was a story about ordinary people caught up in huge events as their world changed around them, changing from the ordinary world we know to one full of wonder and surprise and magic and heroes and monsters and more. That’s what hooked me, pulled me in. And that’s when we knew we needed more than just the list of characters Nick was talking with the Estate about. For one thing, the Pioneer Two weren’t on the list–and for another, I’d seen a lot of what else was out there in terms of Kirby concepts, both in places like John Morrow’s Jack Kirby Collector magazine and when I worked on the “Kirbyverse” books at Topps. And for the ideas we were talking about to be made real, we were going to need a lot of stuff, a lot of characters, a huge sweep.
So we went back to Nick and basically said, “If you can get us everyone, we’re in.” We wanted everything, any Kirby concept or design that hadn’t been sold to Marvel or DC or wasn’t otherwise tied up somewhere.
The Kirby Estate liked the ideas we had, so Nick made the deal, and off we went!
TFAW.com: What’s it like to be bringing Jack Kirby’s creations to life?
KB: It’s an amazing thrill. Kirby’s work is hugely powerful, not just in the sense of dynamic artwork, but in nuance, as well–just looking at a sketch of his, it’s easy to get a sense of humanity from it, or personality, attitude, and so on. The drawings are rich in potential, in ideas. Working on Kirby-created stuff at Marvel and DC is fun, too, but on that stuff, someone else has already gotten to it, developed it their own way, and you’re working with what Kirby did and what everyone who came afterward did. Here, we get to work with pure Kirby, and that’s just a wonderful experience.
Naturally, it’d be better if Kirby could have done it himself, but we don’t have that option, so we’re doing our best.
TFAW.com: How far had Kirby gotten in creating these characters? Were they already complete, or did you flesh them out?
KB: It varies wildly. There are characters like Captain Victory and Silver Star, who had their own series already, so there’s multiple issues’ worth of material that Kirby completed. Then there’s characters like Galaxy Green, who were on a two-page comics teaser. Or the Secret City characters, who are a set of designs and fairly detailed character profiles. But there are also the Norse heroes–Sigurd, Balduur, and the others–who were designs Kirby came up with for a proposed revamp of Thor that never went anywhere. There are no notes on them, just fully realized portfolio plates. Other characters were series pitches that didn’t come to fruition, so there are sketches and notes, still others are just sketches, or even art pieces Kirby did for his home that as far as we know he never planned to use in stories. We even have a set of costume designs he did for a college production of Julius Caesar.
So it ranges from fully fleshed-out characters all the way down to sketches that don’t have a name, much less a character description. So we get to work with what’s there, seeing what the designs suggest to us, how they resonate, what feels like a good way to use them, to flesh them out. That’s another part of what makes this book so much fun–it’s the variety. We’re building from Kirby all the time, but how detailed and how much–there’s a lot of creativity involved in bringing this world to life while honoring the source as much as we can.
TFAW.com: With Alex Ross on board, Kirby: Genesis reminds me of your classic collaboration, Marvels. What resonates with you about “the man on the street collides with superheroes” stories?
KB: Part of it’s just me–when I started reading comics, I was fascinated with the universe as much as with the characters, and I wondered what it would be like for ordinary people in a world like that. That’s something that’s never left me, so it’s a perspective I like to use, certainly in projects like Marvels and Astro City, but I did it even before those.
Part of it comes from that suggestion Alex made–I knew we had a lot of very different characters to work with, and we needed something to pull it all together, give the story a viewpoint and a structure so it wasn’t just a big pile of characters. And when he described that bit with the Pioneer Two, I suddenly realized we needed to approach this story that way, too–see it through the eyes of a normal guy whose world changes around him. That way, as crazy and as overwhelming as it is, the reader gets to sort it out along with him, and understand it as he does.
And it’s fitting we do that here, because the one piece of storytelling advice Jack Kirby ever gave me, back when I was working on the Topps “Kirbyverse,” was that it didn’t matter how wild or far out or cosmic you got in a story, just as long as your characters reacted to it like human beings would. If you can make the characters feel like they’re having the same reaction that the audience would, then the readers will follow you anywhere. So we took that literally with Kirby: Genesis. We’d give you a guy with his feet on the ground, part of the ordinary mundane world–and he’d be our guide into everything that comes.
TFAW.com: In Kirby: Genesis, it seems like the “ordinary world” is suddenly exploding with supernatural or otherworldly activity, both from above and underground–like it was waiting to happen. Are there some characters who knew this might be coming?
KB: Not exactly. If anyone knows, it’s the Pioneer Two, but who they are and what they’ve started is a mystery for Kirby and the others to solve. It’s not even clear whether the Pioneer Two brought all this hidden stuff out into the light, or retroactively created it. Did Silver Star exist, before they came to Earth? Or did they somehow cause him to manifest, along with a complete history that’s now a part of our reality? If you’d gone into that museum a week before all of this started, would Bobbi have even found the Sorcerer’s Book?
Was it all waiting to be discovered? Or was it just dreams and fantasies somehow made real? If the Pioneer Two know, they’re not saying–at least, not yet.
TFAW.com: I love that our “everyman” character is named Kirby. His interactions with Bobbi and Bobbi’s father feel so immediate and real. Are we going to get the know the “super” characters more, too?
KB: Actually, all three of them are named after Jack Kirby, in one way or another. Bobbi is named for “Bob Brown” and “Jack Cortez,” two pseudonyms Kirby used in the Golden Age, before he settled on “Jack Kirby.” And her father’s name, Jake, is from Kirby’s real name, Jacob. They’re the three main characters he didn’t create, but we wanted a piece of him in each of them.
As for the “super” characters–at the beginning, Kirby, Bobbi, and Jake don’t know anything about them, so they’re just a welter of new experiences and new ideas, but we get to know them over time, as Kirby and the others come to understand what’s going on. I think by #4 they’re already coming into focus, and they’ll continue to over the course of the series.
They’re what the world is becoming, and we’re going to get used to it and understand it over time.
TFAW.com: There are so many characters, so many different types of environments, so many creatures colliding at once–how do you keep track of it all?
KB: Well, I’ve got a list. And an outline. I know where the story’s going, I know the hidden connections, I know the patterns. So I’m nowhere near as lost as Kirby–I know where his path will lead him, and how everything’s going to fall into place. That makes it a lot easier.
That said, there are a lot of characters–a dozen or so main players or groups, and hundreds of drawings and concepts we can draw on as needed–and only so many pages, so there are times I have to say, “Well, I’d hoped to get a bit more of that guy’s story in this issue, but I’ll have to put it off ’til next time,” just so it doesn’t get too crowded.
That’s one of the reasons we started out thinking Kirby: Genesis would be eight issues long, and then expanded it to 10 issues. So much material!
TFAW.com: Kirby: Genesis is chock-full of classic superhero moments, but it doesn’t feel dated, or like it’s trying too hard to be retro. What’s your secret?
KB: I’m not trying to write it as a pastiche.
The idea here is to build a world that’s modern and fresh and new and involving, using these great ideas, some of which haven’t seen the light of day before, so there’s no reason to treat them as dated. As such, we’re not trying to do this project in Kirby’s style, but to make the best use we can of his ideas and characters in our own way. That’s how he worked, after all. When he was working with concepts that someone else had conceived–whether it was Green Arrow or 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Losers or The Prisoner–he didn’t imitate the style of the people who’d been there before him. He built on the concepts, stayed true to them, but told the stories his way. So we figure the best way to honor his concepts isn’t to try to make it “Kirbyesque,” but simply to try to make it good. To be true to his ideas, but to tell stories our way.
I could try to write like Jack, but I’m a better Kurt Busiek than I am a fake-Jack. Same for Alex–he’ll bring more power to Kirby’s designs by doing what he does best, rather than trying to do what Jack did best and no one else can duplicate.
So the result is Kirby concepts and characters with a modern approach. At least, that’s our goal.
TFAW.com: Bobbi’s been possessed by an entity known as the Swan–is this permanent? Will she remain superpowered?
KB: Good question. Kirby and Jake certainly want her back as Bobbi, but it may not be that easy. We’ll have to see.
TFAW.com: Was it the plan from the start to have Jackson Herbert and Alex Ross collaborate on the art? Will this continue? It looks incredible thus far.
KB: It’s working really well, isn’t it? When we started, we knew Alex would be involved in the interior artwork, so we’d need an artist whose style would combine well with Alex’s, but we didn’t know right off who it would be. We actually had four or five different guys do tryout pages, and Jackson’s got him the gig. He and Alex had worked together before, but not quite in this way. As for whether they’ll do more collaborating after Kirby: Genesis, I couldn’t say–but they’re our art team for this whole project, and I’m very glad of it.
TFAW.com: How far ahead have you plotted?
KB: It depends. On the one hand, we have a plot outline that takes us all the way through the series, so when you look at it that way, it’s the whole thing. But I’m scrambling to stay ahead of the artists as I write the scripts–at this point, I’m about a third of an issue ahead of Alex, and two-thirds of an issue ahead of Jackson, so viewed that way, the answer’s “Not far enough!” But I’m hoping to pull a little further ahead and get some breathing room. Fingers crossed!
TFAW.com: Dynamite has several offshoots in the works, including Captain Victory and Silver Star. Will this be their ongoing superhero universe?
KB: It’s certainly the plan to have there be a continuing Kirby line of books at Dynamite. Kirby: Genesis is the launch event, and new books are being brought in alongside it–not too many at once, but I think they’re up to three: Captain Victory, Silver Star and Dragonsbane, which focuses on the Norse heroes. There’s a lot more. I’d love to see a Galaxy Green mini-series, or the Glory Knights in their own book, or Thunderfoot. And even characters you haven’t seen yet, like Dragon Boy.
Kirby’s library of creations is rich enough to build something really fantastic, so we’ll have to see how it goes.
TFAW.com: You’ve written for a lot of publishers, including DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse. How do you like working with Dynamite?
KB: Working with any company is more about the people than the company. And at Dynamite, I get to work with good people–Alex as the main guy I collaborate with, and Joe Rybandt as our editor. It’s always nice to be able to talk to the guy at the top, and Dynamite’s a compact enough company that I’m dealing with Nick directly a lot. Plus, they’ve brought together a terrific team, with Jackson, our colorist Vinicius, and letterer Simon Bowland, who manages to fit my script into the art in some pretty tight spaces.
It’s funny–Dynamite’s a small company, but the creative team spans three continents, thanks to our all being connected digitally.
And I can’t complain about company support–Nick’s put a huge amount of energy and effort into promoting Kirby: Genesis, which is the kind of thing any creator wants from his publisher. Nick is a tireless promoter, and I think that’s one of the reasons Dynamite is growing as well as it has been.
TFAW.com: Are there any superheroes, either classic or new, that you’d like to get your hands on?
KB: A few. But after doing JLA/Avengers and Trinity, I feel like I’ve experienced the Marvel and DC Universes on a grand scale, and then I’ve got a whole superhero universe in Astro City and another building in Kirby: Genesis. So I’ve been up to my ears in superheroes, and it’s almost a question of who I haven’t already written.
It’d be fun to get a swing at the Fantastic Four someday, or the Legion of Superheroes, or someone off the beaten track like the Shadow or Magnus Robot Fighter or the THUNDER Agents. But at least for now, outside of Astro City and Kirby: Genesis, I’m trying to focus on non-superhero stuff as well, including The Witchlands, which is still in the works, and the long-awaited sequel to Arrowsmith.
I’m sure there’ll come a time when I want more superheroes in my life, but I like variety, too. So I want to keep mixing it up.
Our sincere thanks to Kurt Busiek for a truly heroic interview. You can browse all of the Kirby: Genesis comics right here on TFAW and save 10-35%. Plus, through 10/31, save 35% on all of Dynamite’s October-catalog comics and graphic novels!
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