IT STARTED ON YANCY STREET

A Personal Reminiscence

by
Alan E Kupperberg


It started on Yancy Street. At least it did for me. I first “met” Jack Kirby on Yancy Street. Or, more accurately, via the cover of Fantastic Four #29, which promised a story by that name, within. I’ve wanted to walk the same streets Jack Kirby walked ever since.

I’ve been lucky enough to walk and work with many of Jack Kirby’s collaborators. I’ve been scripted by Stan Lee and Larry Leiber. Inked by Wally Wood, Neal Adams, Joe Sinnott, Vinnie Colletta, Frank Giacoia, John Romita, Chic Stone, Mike Esposito. I’ve inked Steve Ditko. Others, like George Roussos, John Verpoorten, Sol Brodsky and Paul Reinman, I worked with in their various later careers in production and as colorists. I shared studio space with Syd Shores. Some, like Don Heck, Bill Everett, Herb Trimpe, Dick Ayers and, indeed, Jack Kirby himself, were merely acquaintances. Some, like Frankie G., Vinnie and Woody were loved, and now, often missed friends of cherished memory.

I’ve worked with them and reveled in their friendship and the “mystique-by-association” it afforded me. But Jack Kirby was one of a kind. He did it his way and made it look easy. “Look” being the operative word here.

By early 1970 I was a regular pest -- er -- visitor to Marvel’s small, six room, dozen-person office. I often contributed custom-written “fan-mail” for correspondence starved letters pages on request.

In Marvel’s tiny but happy Bullpen I watched that dear soul Frankie Giacoia inking the finishing flourishes on the Fantastic Four #97 cover he was delivering. That was my first introduction to a Kirby original, and made to me by another true original. Frank and I later became almost brothers and I still miss him daily.

I watched Bill Everett touch up his own inks on Thor #174. My letter remarking on that issue’s “Crypto-Man” appeared in Thor #177’s LOC. Vinnie Colletta’s inks were also often subject to Everett’s augmentation or reworking at the request of Stan or Production honcho Sol Brodsky.

The conveyer belt on Marvel’s Photostat machine bore the manufacturer’s imprinted admonition: “Feed Prints Face Up.” Photostat guru and comedy legend Stu Schwartzburg had inked in a cartoon below it portraying a hungry dog lying on his back, his master offering the supine pup a tidbit, saying, “Here, Prince!”

And there was always the great Mimi Gold. I’ll always love Mimi.

Within a year I was hard at work in the Production Department of National Periodicals Publications (DC Comics).

Whereas Marvel operated like a small family of merry upstarts, DC was “Big Business” and always a serious operation. Them folks wore ties to make comic books. There was no running in the halls.

Shortly after DC revived the classic Fawcett Captain Marvel in Shazam!, some freelancer Xeroxed a C.C. Beck Marvel head onto a Jim Starlin, Marvel Comics Captain Marvel cover. This was pinned to the wall of DC’s production department (never Bullpen). When DC Production Vice-President Sol Harrison discovered this forgery he was shocked. Sol avowed quite vehemently that Marvel wouldn’t get away with publishing their Mar-vell bearing a Beck visage. As usual in those days, DC didn’t get the joke.

Sol didn’t joke about the product. (Except for referring to one of DC’s war titles as “Our Farting Forces.”) Sol’s sense of humor favored the macabre. When Sol attended the funeral of letterer Milt Snappin’s mother, it was the prototype for Mary Tyler Moore’s classic “Chuckles Bites The Dust” episode.

So, normally, only two events in the staid course of the DC universe would, like a giant rogue comet or invading singularity, disturb the magisterial and usually unalterably eternal orbits at DC Comics. The arrival of a new Joe Kubert Tarzan book. And the other JK-- Jack Kirby’s -- latest “special delivery.” Even hardened and cynical long time production department grunts Morris Waldinger and Joe Letterese would join the gaggle and goggle in appreciation as each new Fourth World episode unfolded.

Funky Flashman absolutely made waves the moment it arrived in the office. If my memory serves me, within a day or so of its arrival, a certain Houseroy had paid an undercover visit to DC and had a chuckle reading this now “infamous” tale.

Wonderful, funny, patient Jack Adler ran DC’s coloring department, among his other duties. When Tommy Nicoletti, Jerry Serpe or Paul Reinman would deliver the color guides for a Kirby book, Adler would review it, as he did all their efforts. Adler would often “throw” a YRB2 (red brown) or a YBR2 (dark green) into a panel behind a three-quarter character close-up with an open background. A touch as small as this would invariably make an already sizzling Kirby page pop like a firecracker.

The gracious Gerda Gaettel was another direct link for me to Kirby’s Golden Age days. She proofread his DC titles in the 1970’s, just as she had his Timely titles in the 1940’s.

Deadman was to make his appearance in the Forever People and word came back to DC via Jack’s New York liaison, E. Nelson Bridwell, that Jack needed Deadman art and story reference. Being, at that time, the buttinsky of ALL time, my ears opened wide.  

Now, I don’t loan my books. My books are like...well, my children.

But this was for the King.

And he was about to interpret Neal Adams’s masterpiece. Kirby and Adams.  My Two Favorite Heroes In One Adventure - Together.

I volunteered to loan Jack my own personal collection of Strange Adventures.   Off they went to California.

And you’d better believe I got them back in pristine shape and in a timely manner. And you’d better believe I’ve still got them.

Of course, as a dyed-in-the-wool Superman fan, I’d long dreamt of a Kirby Superman. So I was as disappointed as everyone else when DC had artists Al Plastino and then Murphy Anderson, bring the famous Kryptonian physiognomy into line with the DC house style. Sometimes Superman’s face was “whited-out” with Sno-Pake and Vinnie Colletta’s work was re-inked. Sometimes the inked face was pasted over. Some times it was literally cut out of the page and patched in. Sometimes Vinnie left the face uninked and it was passed on to Anderson. Murphy regularly worked in the tiny, airless room DC set aside for freelancers use.   Why ever and what ever way they were accomplished, I still feel these alterations were a sad mutilation.

In that same cramped room I watched Neal Adams as he inked, among others, the Don Rickles cover of Jimmy Olsen #141. I also marveled as Neal did his own covers for the book, and his glee in having a crack at his conception of “being” Kirby on the cover of Jimmy Olsen #148.

After business hours, Adams would often invade the deserted production room and pore over the latest Kirby originals, professing awe at the King’s raw power and artistic versitility.

If anyone out there owns the print version of the original cover art of Kamandi #1, please go and compare it to the final printed cover. Go ahead, I don’t mind waiting. The printed cover has Kamandi and the raft higher up on the art. When I was ordered to adjust the cover to accommodate all the cover copy, I’m glad I had the presence of mind to do all the alterations on a pair of Photostats. I hope I did a tasteful job.

National Lampoon writer, Michelle Choquette was preparing a (never published) book about the 1960’s -- short, humorous vignettes to be illustrated by cartoonists and illustrators of the day. I watched Wally Wood ink a two or three page Kirby sequence about space exploration. The Sky Masters reunited, Challenging the Unknown, right before my eyes! Woody did a great job on it -- faithful, powerful, yet not overpowering. Was this the last time these titans met on paper? And what ever became of the result?

And what other lost glories? One of the most intriguing “what-if’s” in the Kirby Kannon was related to me with profound sadness by Woody.

When word first ricocheted around the business that Jack Kirby had decamped for DC Comics in 1970, Woody contacted DC publisher Carmine Infantino and virtually begged for the Kirby assignment. If I recall correctly, Wood even offered to take a cut in his page-rate. Carmine declined. I assume DC sought a continuity of the “Marvel Style”, in Colletta. Plus, garrulous Vinnie was always “there,” in the DC office. Woody was withdrawn, almost a hermit and, probably unfairly, not always considered reliable with deadlines.

Nineteen seventy-four found me at Atlas Comics reborn. Perhaps not quite as astute as he had been when he launched Simon & Kirby’s Captain America, I was still working for the post-Marvel Martin Goodman.

Goodman hoped to duplicate Warren Publication’s successful Captain Company mail-order operation.   For many months the Atlas office was piled high with never sold Spider-Man plastic model kits.

Deciding to rename Atlas’s ailing the “Phoenix” title, Martin Goodman redubbed him the, “Man From Mars.” This was mere months after NASA’s Mars Lander had strongly suggested that Mars was lifeless. I gently pointed that fact out and submitted a list of alternatives from which the “Protector” was accepted.

For all we know, Stan Lee’s greatest contribution to Marvel over the years was in keeping Goodman out of the creative folk’s hair.

As for Jim Warren: In the early ‘70’s he changed the name of his publishing company to Warren Communications, just, I heard him say, to bug Warner Communications’s DC Comics.

By the time 1978 rolled around, I was the regular penciller on Marvel Comic’s Invaders title. I’d never been fond of drawing covers, but when I was asked to provide a cover layout or rough sketch for Invaders # 32, I didn’t hesitate a tick -- because it was for Jack. I’d be interpreting Thor, Captain America, Namor and the Human Torch -- for their artistic father!

Then Jack’s pencils arrived. They blew my tender little mind -- Kirby interpreting my interpretation of Kirby.

To turn the story one more notch in the direction of a full circle, long-time Kirby-Kollaborator Chic Stone soon began to ink my Invaders pencils regularly.

I went on to a long stretch with Stan Lee on the Incredible Hulk syndicated comic strip, inked by Frankie Giacoia. Vinnie Colletta inked a lot of my pencils, including an issue on my run on Thor.

But as a true career highlight, my brief creative stroll with Jack Kirby still stands out as a walk with greatness.

And to think, it all started on Yancy Street.
(c)2006-2008 Copyright Alan Kupperberg

Article (c) copyright 2007 Alan Kupperberg

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