It takes a lot of guts to resurrect the work of the man they called “The King,” but if anyone would be able to handle it, it would have to be writer Kurt Busiek, co-writer and artist Alex Ross, along with artist Jack Herbert in Dynamite’s new miniseries, Kirby: Genesis. In this sci-fi adventure, the trio unearth some of Kirby’s unpublished characters and concepts in the midst of a strange confrontation between humanity and powerful beings from other planets.
Here’s the official synopsis:
GENESIS explodes into action! A message to space has been heard and answered — but what has come to Earth isn’t what anyone would expect! As cosmic visitors begin to be revealed to the world, a deadly battle begins — and three ordinary people are caught up in it. Featuring: Captain Victory, Silver Star, the Glory Knights and more — and this is just the beginning! Superstars Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross bring Jack “King” Kirby’s creations to life in a way you’ll never forget! This is the beginning! This is the GENESIS!
Both Mr. Busiek and Mr. Ross were kind enough to answer a few questions by e-mail for MTV Geek about working on the legendary artist’s creations while shedding light on this all-new story.
****Expect the unexpected! And SPOILERS!****
MTV Geek: When and why did you arrive at the decision to have Kirby talk directly to the reader?
Kurt Busiek: I decided to do it as I was writing the script, actually. In the outline, it was meant to be a flashback, him thinking back, but it felt forced, artificial—so I thought it would be fun to actually make a virtue out of that, make it an abrupt, unexpected moment, where the character simply explains the situation to the reader, breaking the fourth wall. In writing it, it felt more immediate to me, more involving that doing it conventionally. It kind of said, “Hey, pay
attention, both to this Kirby guy, and to what he’s talking about.”
The inspiration for it was a great little movie called Chilly Scenes of Winter (although I’ll maintain to my dying day that the original cut, which was called Head Over Heels, was much better), which has a scene early on where the lead character, played by John Heard, is on the phone with his mother, who is threatening to commit suicide, and all of a sudden he just stops listening to her, looks directly at the camera and starts telling us a story about how he met the love of his life and how things went terribly wrong. I always liked the way that worked, and since we already had Kirby’s narration talking to the reader, it felt like it would work well.
Something like that scene will come up a couple more times, as the story unfolds, too.
Geek: Who was responsible for the cartoon-style section here?
KB: I wanted the reader to be absolutely aware that these images weren’t flashbacks, they were Kirby’s subjective perceptions, so I didn’t want them to look like the rest of the book. In the script, I suggested doing the page in a cartoony style, a la Darwyn Cooke or Bruce Timm,
because I’ve seen Alex draw in a Timm-like style before and he’s very good at it.
Alex didn’t like the idea, so we talked it over, and ultimately what we wound up with was that it didn’t really matter how it was different from the “reality” of the other pages, as long as it was different. So Alex went off and came up with what I think was a brilliant approach, showing Kirby’s perceptions through multiple styles—a Peanuts style when they’re kids, and an Archie style for the high school panel, and something like that Timm/Cooke look for the modern day. It worked beautifully, giving the reader a look at Kirby’s perceptions through imagery particular to Kirby. He’s a comics fan, so his perceptions come out in a variety of comics styles.
So the idea to make it cartoony was mine, but Alex was the one who figured out how, and Jackson realized the page from Alex’s layout.
Geek: Tell us a little about Kirby and Bobbi. Where did these characters come from?
KB: St. Paul!
More seriously, we wanted to show the changes the world’s going through from a very human perspective, rather than sticking with the larger-than-life characters as our main focus. From the moment Alex told me the image he had in mind that we used for page 8, I knew I wanted to see that image from a very grounded, human perspective. So we needed human characters.
Starting from that need, I wanted a guy who wasn’t at all big or brawny, someone who’d contrast well with the mythic warriors and SF soldiers we’d be meeting. And I wanted some romantic aspects, and some family concerns, too. But I needed to make it a nice simply cast that readers could understand quickly, so we could move on to the cosmic stuff.
So: Kirby Freeman, a college student, bookish and imaginative, but maybe too introverted, a guy for whom the cosmic changes the story will bring about aren’t completely unknown territory, but getting out into the world and doing stuff maybe is. Bobbi Cortez, the girl next door, who’s more outgoing, more active than he is, and capable of dragging him out of his shell and into the world. And our third core human-level cast member, Jake Cortez, Bobbi’s father (and someone who’s been a kind of surrogate father to Kirby), an older guy who’s seen and experienced a lot and has a wealth of practical experience as a cop to fall back on.
That gives us some interesting relationships to work with, but the core of it is simple and easy for readers to hook into; we don’t need to spend so much time establishing this stuff that it slows us down.
Geek:Was there ever a desire to infuse some of story Kirby’s personality with that of his namesake?
KB: Not really. I didn’t want anyone to think that Kirby Freeman was meant as a stand-in for Jack Kirby, or a commentary on him. Mainly, I confess, I wanted to make sure that even readers who don’t know who Jack Kirby was can read the series and not be confused. To me, it’s
called Kirby: Genesis because it builds on all these Jack Kirby creations, but if someone else reads it and figures the title means that Kirby Freeman is the lead character, then great. That works, too.
Whatever brings someone in and lets them be exposed to these ideas.
Alex Ross: Adding in my two cents, I did make the case for making Jack Kirby the star of a comic book about his own properties. I was voted down by everybody else, but I certainly embrace the approach we took here. Personally, I would have been fine with reading an extensive story featuring a literal Jack Kirby frozen at whatever age we cared to present him, but that does bring up obvious questions of whether he’s the man who was busy drawing comics of the ones we know or is he some other alternate-reality version of him. Within issue #0, the story begins with Jack himself, on-screen, as it were, and that makes me feel satisfied in that desire.
KB: I will note, though, that all three of our human-level characters are named after Jack, in one way or another. Kirby is named most directly, of course, but in his early days, he used other pseudonyms, including Jack Cortez and Bob Brown, and of course his real first name was Jacob. So that’s where we got Bobbi and Jake Cortez.
And they all have aspects of Jack Kirby—Kirby Freeman is thoughtful, creative, imaginative; Bobbi is energetic and restless, and Jake is a voice of experience. But the idea isn’t for any of them to be Jack—the whole world is Jack Kirby, and they’re in the midst of what he created.
Geek: How did you react the first time you saw some of these unused Kirby designs?
KB: I’d have been completely overwhelmed if I saw them all at once—but as it is, I saw them bit by bit, over the years. Many of them in The Jack Kirby Collector, but other in places, too. And we’re still finding more, here and there—I wrote a design into #3 that we hadn’t yet seen when I wrote #2, but we found it, it was perfect, so we wove it in.
It’s always treat to see new Kirby art, whether it’s new designs or existing characters. There’s so much power to them, so much implied life and energy. So it’s a thrill to see them, and a rare privilege to get to use so many of them in this story we’re telling.
AR: I feel a great debt to John Morrow for the Jack Kirby Collector magazine. It’s been an undeniable influence upon this entire project, let alone one of my favorite sources of inspiration over the last several years. Through the magazine, you see that Jack Kirby’s life was nearly infinite in the amount of creativity he gave forth, and I believe, as do many of the fans who contribute to the magazine, that it’s a life and body of work that deserves the dedicated scrutiny.
Geek: There’s always the idea of epochal encounters in Kirby’s work: turning points for species that potentially allow them to make the next big leap. To what extent did that influence what you were doing work here?
KB: It’s definitely something that comes up. Because it’s an important theme to Kirby, it runs through what we’re doing, both in characters where he put it there himself, like Silver Star, and in characters and concepts we’re fleshing out, like the Primals, the Progenitors and others, affecting parts of the story that deal with the past as well as the present and future. Kirby thought big, and we don’t want to shortchange that.
AR: There’s a big correlation [between] Kirby’s creative instincts and the film 2001: A Space Odyssey that he both adapted and extended into its own series for Marvel. Those big ideas of giant evolutionary steps taken with species as well as individuals are something I’ve tried to honor in this work as well as other works I’ve done like Earth X for Marvel.
Geek: Everyone is concerned here about the alien response. In a perfect world, what would you present as the best face of humanity?
KB: Well, what the Pioneer Two is seeking isn’t simply the best face of humanity—it’s something more, something that’ll get explored over the course of the story. In a perfect world, I don’t know that I’d want to present humanity to cosmic aliens to be judged in any way—I’d rather meet as equals and learn about other cultures as they learn about us. But Kirby’s worry was that if we invited space travelers back to Earth, we might not get that chance.
I tend to think that the best face of humanity is that we learn. We explore, we study, we think. So something that shows family bonds, the emotional relationships between us, in a setting where we both learn and teach, would be good. I guess I’m imagining a family of explorers, like the Fantastic Four, Heinlein’s “Rolling Stones” or even the Lost In Space crew (without a Doctor Smith), more than a military or governmental mission. Humans as seekers, not as soldiers.
Geek: No one seems to be flipping out about these big revelations—or at least so far there’s no hostile human response. Was this a deliberate attempt to keep the story optimistic?
KB: I think it’s mostly a case of focus—I’m sure there are people freaking out, but there’s so much going on we’re not able to show it all, and as of #1, people are still kind of in a state of shock, still absorbing it. People aren’t going to be blasé about it, but we’ve got to get the story going before we can step back and see wider reactions. But they’ll come. And they’ll be a range of reactions, from fear and anger to wonder and curiosity and more.
Geek: Could you tell us a little about the fugitives and the Galaxy Green Apprehension Squad?
KB: I hate telling too much, rather than letting the story do it. But the lead outlaw there is Sundance of Mars, a Kirby design we’ve interpreted as a likable rogue. The three with him are an impromptu gang who busted out of a galactic prison with him. Ramar, the robotic-looking one, is from a commission drawing Kirby did, just a background figure we snaffled up to use. Chela is from a piece of a wild drawing he did about the sins of the world, and the Zaranite is a race that was first seen in an issue of Captain Victory. So we pulled them from a bunch of different sources. But what they are is a bunch of criminals who’ve stolen something valuable and dangerous, and they’ve fled to Earth, not intentionally but not entirely by chance, either with Galaxy Green hot on their heels.
As for Galaxy Green, they’re from a two-page comics pitch Kirby did in the late 1960s or early 1970s. In his version, they were from Earth’s future, at a time when all the men had died out, so the remaining women had to hunt through the galaxy to find men to propagate the race. We’ve modified that a little, because we wanted them to be part of the present-day fun—they’re from an Earth-like planet (which may even be called Earth, in their native language) where all the men died out, so they became manhunters. And in the time since, they’ve become so good at it that now they’re the galaxy’s best and most feared trackers, warriors for hire who take on contracts to hunt down fugitives, lawbreakers and other dangerous men. They started out of necessity, and now it’s their culture. It’s what they do, and how they see themselves.
Geek: Again, we get back to the idea of epochal moments—either transformation or
destruction. What is the appeal of these concepts for you?
KB: Well, it certainly makes for big stakes in a story! And as you noted earlier, it’s very much a Kirbyesque theme, broad ad compelling, so confronting Earth with a changing world, one that’ll bring about either transformation or destruction—that’s a big, bold story crucible in which to test out characters and bring in a mess of great Kirby concepts.
I can’t say it was intellectually arrived at, from my perspective. When Alex and I were first talking about the project, he mentioned that scene—page 8—and I just knew there was a story there, that these figures were cosmic harbingers of change, and that those changes were a wonderful way to frame a story that could use a lot of Kirby’s ideas and still be a unified whole.
Could you tease some upcoming moments from future issues?
We’re just getting started. You’ve seen a few of the characters, and they’ll all play bigger roles, but you haven’t seen the heroes of the Mythlands, from Sigurd Dragonsbane to Ulysses, the Genie, the dragon Lord Chimu and more. You haven’t met Thunderfoot the Half-Human, or toured the Phantom Continent. The Primals. The Dark Presence. Reptar, King of the Dinosaurs. The secrets of the Progenitors. The Proto-Seed. The role to be played by the Wanderer. We’ll go from prehistoric jungle to hi-tech spaceships to barbaric splendor to a gigantic, monstrous hive. And in the middle of it all, Kirby, Bobbi and Jake. Pulled apart, brought together again—the hope of humanity, even though they don’t know it.
AR: I can add that the artwork gets progressively more impressive as the series goes on. Jack Herbert is delivering a phenomenal-looking comic book. I couldn’t be more thrilled to look at what he does each month. For my own part, I’m sweating over a two-page spread with a city full of fantastic figures displayed throughout it that makes its way into issue #3, so I know we’re all bringing our best game.
Kirby: Genesis #1 is on shelves now and you can read the #0 issue HERE.