Most comic book fans will recognize the names Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. Their collaboration, Marvels, is a critically acclaimed and fan favorite story that captures the love they have for classic characters and outside the box storytelling.Most comic book fans will also recognize the name Jack Kirby. The co-creator or creator of characters from the X-Men to the Hulk, from The Demon to Darkseid, his influence is felt every single week in comic book stores, TV shows, Films, video games, you name it, his creations have graced it. Now, Dynamite Entertainment and the Kirby Estate are combining forces to bring a full universe of the late Jack Kirby's characters to life. Enlisting Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross as co-plotters, Busiek as scripter, Ross doing layouts, and Jack Herbert finishing art, they've brought a team together that wants nothing more than to respect Kirby's legacy and tell great stories with great characters. Newsarama spoke to Busiek and Ross via email about the story, why it's starting with a #0 issue in May, and why fans of all sorts should give it a shot. Newsarama: Kurt, first off, why does this story need a "0" issue? What does that format offer over just starting the story with #1?
Kurt Busiek: I was the guy who suggested a #0 issue, so I guess I'm the best guy to answer that.
I was inspired by what we did with the Conan #0 issue, when I wrote the relaunch of that book for Dark Horse. We knew we had a really good package, story and art, that readers were going to like -- but at the same time, there were guys going, "Kurt Busiek? Conan? Isn't he a superhero guy?" and "I dunno, who's this Cary Nord?" So we figured, let's just show it to them. Here's a really inexpensive taste, where you can see that yeah, I can write this kind of thing, and the art's freaking gorgeous. Putting that out there, giving people a chance to see it, built a lot of excitement for the series.
Here, we're not in precisely the same situation, but still, we're offering people a big new thing, full of character they don't know well and an art team that's hard to describe -- Alex is doing layouts? There'll be some painted art? What does that mean, how's the book going to look?
Well, here you go: We'll show you just how the book is going to look. Get a sense of the tone, get a look at how sweet the art is going to be, see how the painted art and the line-art integrates. And it's only a buck.
So that's the idea -- there's a lot of resistance to new books out there, so we want to make it as easy as possible to give Kirby: Genesis a try.
Also, it works out nicely story-wise, because there's a piece of the story that happens in the past, setting things up for the trigger event that happens in the present day. So having a #0 issue works out to be a great way to do a prologue, to give people a taste, show off some of the characters we'll be featuring, and plant the seeds of what's going to happen in #1. It's a nice place to start, an overture before the main event. I think it worked out really well.
Nrama: While Jack Kirby is a name known to hardcore comic fans, these characters, and even the creator himself, are unknown to a large comic reading populace. What's the elevator pitch to those who may have never heard of Captain Victory or maybe even Kirby?
Busiek: Heh. The reason I quit being a sales manager over twenty years now is because I hate elevator pitches. I want to write stories, and show people what's in them when they read them, not tell them all about it ahead of time. So I try to stick my publishers with that job, so I can stick with things like, "Hey, we've got a pretty good track record and you can try us out for a buck." And then I'll let the story do the work.
In this case, though, I'd say that it's a doorway into a new universe -- a universe of characters and concepts from the guy who created or co-created most of the foundational Marvel Universe and a ton of other stuff besides. A world that goes back to the roots of the superhero genre, when it was still wild and chaotic and new, and brings together science fiction and fantasy and mythology and pulp heroics and more. It's the story of one ordinary guy, a college student, and what happens to him (and the closest thing he's got to family) when a cosmic event happens and the world changes. Secret histories are revealed, menaces from space arrive on Earth, new heroes are created -- and you get to see it from the point of view of an ordinary guy caught up in it all, to see what it would be like to be caught up in it yourself.
When we start out, it's a world just like ours, but when we finish, everything's changed. You'll meet gods, heroes, government super-agents, cosmic beings, space soldiers, evolutionary throwbacks, hidden guardians and more -- with a very human heart to it all, as one young man tries to save those important to him, and has to plunge right into the heart of the madness to do it.
I'm staying pretty vague, aren't I? I just don't want to give away any surprises. Suffice it to say that decades ago, we sent a message to the stars, and now we're getting the response. And it's a mind-blowing, world-changing response, one that makes the world a much more exciting -- and dangerous -- place. In a lot of different ways.
To throw out some names: Among the characters you'll be meeting are Silver Star, the Glory Knights, Galaxy Green, Tiger 21, Captain Victory, Thunderfoot, the Primals, the Wanderer, Dragonsbane and the Mythics. Heroes of myth, cosmic manhunters, interstellar soldiers, the denizens of the Phantom Continent, and more.
But mostly, I'd say Alex and I have a pretty good track record. Jack Kirby has a much, much better one. And this is the beginning of something huge. And hey, it's only a buck. So give it a try -- what have you got to lose?
Nrama: Conversely, for the big Kirby fan that may be wary about new concepts or old ones being resurrected by some schlubs named Kurt and Alex, how do you make them want to read this?
Busiek: I don't want to wrestle every recalcitrant fan to the ground and force them to buy the book. If they don't want to see Kirby concepts done by anyone but Kirby, that's certainly their right.
But I do want to make it as easy as possible for them to give us a try, and see if maybe we've got something for them. Because odds are, they've been enjoying Kirby concepts done by other people than Kirby over the years, whether it's the X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, the Demon, OMAC, the Fantastic Four, the New Gods or lots more. And this is a chance to see Kirby concepts and characters they've never seen before, in comics approved by Jack's family, comics that get to be Kirby's legacy to his family as well as a way to get more of his concepts into print.
And if they don't like it, hey, they can throw things at me. I'm the first to admit we're not Jack Kirby. We're taking his material and doing our own treatment of it, just as he did when he was handed someone else's material, from The Losers to 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Prisoner and more. As long as we do what we do honestly and well, I'm confident it'll be worth a look.
Nrama: Alex, when working with characters attached to a tiny name like Jack Kirby, what's the balance between your "own" style and wanting to represent his unique take on comic book art?
Alex Ross: Whereas I’m not specifically aping Jack’s form of figure drawing, a lot of my thinking is to interpret his designs and poses into my particular filter of trying to make that look more photorealistic. Everything I draw from Jack’s designs is heavily based on examining each way he draws a face, a nose, a fold in cloth, textures, everything. I’m kind of like of a movie studio trying to translate a more two-dimensional comic image into a live action film while not losing the original artist’s hand in the process.
Nrama: As someone who has created a comics universe of your own with Astro City, Kurt, what would you say the keys are to introducing new or little-known characters to readers?
Busiek: It varies wildly. When I introduced Samaritan, for example, I started deep in his head, in his dreams, and built outward from there. When I introduced the Silver Agent, we saw him from outside, from the point of view of a man telling a story about the past, looking back on him after he was gone. So there's lots of different ways to go about it. But what has to happen, if you want those characters to come alive for the reader, is that whatever approach you take, you've got to communicate the character. You've got to leave the reader with more than just a name and a costume -- they need to know who the character is, what they're like, what kind of attitude they have, what sort of role they play. Whether the character's introduced in a full-on spotlight, like the Confessor, or stay in the shadows as a mysterious presence, like the Hanged Man, they need to be distinct. They need to be vivid. They need to leave an impression.
Hopefully, Kirby: Genesis will do that, and readers will want to explore all the characters more deeply, so they can go from here to their own series. But first and foremost, Genesis has to be an effective, memorable story, not a catalog of characters. And I'm not worried on that score.
Nrama: Jack Herbert and Alex Ross- one artist that you know how to write for at this point in your career, one that's new to you. With Alex co-plotting, do you loosen up your script a bit and let him run wild? Are there specific strengths of Jack's you two are trying to keep in mind as well?
Busiek: Actually, I'm still learning to script for both, in some ways -- Jackson because I've never worked with him before, and Alex because I haven't worked with him on storytelling pages for almost 20 years, and he's changed and grown since MARVELS. So it's a process of discovery, as it always is -- MARVELS was, and my first year of Avengers with George Pérez was, and so was working with Stuart Immonen or Cary Nord or Brent Anderson. That's fun, figuring out how you can make the collaboration work to it best effect.
But the co-plotting Alex has done isn't a matter of me leaving holes in the script and letting him vamp. We did it at the other end -- we built the story together from scratch, tossing ideas back and forth, moments we wanted to see, characters we thought would be the most effective, that sort of thing. Once we'd done that for a while, I worked up an outline based on what we'd discussed, and we messed with it some more, changing characters, moving stuff around, shifting emphasis.
Then I reworked the outline, and got it to a place everyone was happy with, and that's the version that was approved by the Kirbys. From that point on, the writing has been in my hands -- I'm scripting the story we came up with together, not working up most of a story and expecting Alex to complete it. As we go along, we may change things, tweaking and modifying the script to make it stronger. But I'm writing the same kind of script I write for Astro City; the co-plotting was done at the beginning.
And just to jump back to Jack Herbert for a moment -- what stands out for me is his sense of place, and atmosphere. He tells a story well, he draws beautifully, but he's really good with backgrounds, making me believe where we are, and that what's happening on the page is happening in a real setting. So I'll be looking for more ways to play with that, as we go.
Nrama: Alex, you've now worked on several projects as a co-plotter. What is it about that experience that offers the best comic creation to you?
Ross: It allows me the ability to rely upon a writer’s trained skill in thinking about and executing things in ways that I don’t immediately imagine. I can benefit from their vision, expertise, and wisdom. When it works, it’s wonderful to share in the inspiration and drive to make something come to life.
Nrama: Back over to you, Alex, doing layouts for Jack Herbert, how do you find yourself changing the way you'd approach them versus if you were doing finished art yourself?
Ross: Not at all. I know that Jack can handle anything I throw at him. I think we’re both trying to live up to the challenge of equaling the energy inherit in Kirby’s line with our more rendered approach. Jack Herbert and I are very different kinds of artists from Kirby, which makes it a fun challenge to find that middle ground, that nexus of our styles.
Nrama: As a creator, why is now the time to bring these characters to light for this generation of readers?
Ross: Why not now? I’m happy to have had this opportunity now or at any time in my career. Think of what we’re doing as a truly fun way to pay back something to the legacy and estate of the man who created most of the popular superhero characters in history. I know Jack had said of people always following his previous designs and creations by continuing comics with them that they should really move on to create their own stuff. To that point, I think that spending a bit of time with something the family has complete ownership of is a very reasonable stop to make in the journey to finding something new and original to make. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent walking in the path of the comics Jack’s made, drawing his characters and sometimes emulating his approach, and given how that experience has benefited me and so many others like me who have done the same, I think there’s a drive to try and pay tribute back even more directly to the family tree.
Nrama: Do you feel as an artist that you have a personal relationship with influences/other artists like Kirby through their work? How do you connect to his creative process when approaching revivals/introductions like this?
Ross: I do feel like I have some kind of connection to the experiences of an inspiration like Kirby. His work as well as his whole life history is one of the most documented of any hero I’ve had. It’s easy to feel connected to him through learning of his trials and triumphs, feeling that in many ways he represents the very heart of the art form. In some ways it seems the very DNA of the creative process in making comics connects back to Kirby. You could never fully know what a person intended with their work, but when you approach what’s left behind from them, you can try and give it your touch with the strongest ambition and respect that you’re capable of.
Nrama: Kurt, close us out here. Is there something specific from these properties that has surprised you, or gotten you particularly excited?
Busiek: I've already noted how much I hate giving away details, so I'll try to speak in generalities about specifics.
What's amazed me is how much creative power there is in the images, even the images Kirby never named, never explained. It's not merely that they're powerful on their own -- that's the sort of thing you'd expect from Kirby. It's the resonances that are created when you bring them together. There've been numerous times we've been working on the book, said said, "Hey, what if we combine this concept with this idea and --" and as soon as we do it, it's like, "Of course. Of course they go together. And not only do they go together, but they suggest three or four other ideas that just naturally flow out of that combination."
That's the power of Kirby. His work just generates energy, even after he's gone.
And since you wanted specifics, well, I'll say that there's a certain sporting event in #2 that's on of those moments. Or the arrival on page 8 of #1. And something to do with a temple in #3. And if we do it right, there'll be a romantic conversation in #6 or #7 featuring characters that I don't think Kirby connected when he created them, but who just exploded in richness and context as soon as they were brought together. So hang onto this interview -- you'll see just what I mean when we get there.
Vaguely specific enough for you?Kirby: Genesis #0 ships May 2011 for $1