In the latest Comic Book Legends Revealed, find out whether Jack Kirby really came to DC in 1970 with a tremendous boast about what book he wanted
Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the eight hundred and fifty-sixth installment where we examine three comic book legends and determine whether they are true or false. As usual, there will be three posts, one for each of the three legends. Click here for the first legend in this installment.
When Jack Kirby was dealing with moving to DC, he told DC “Give me your worst-selling book and I’ll make it your best-selling book,”
I’m Going With Misleading Enough for a False
One of the problems with legends is that you’re often at the “mercy” of people who basically know what happened to them in the past, but even a slight variation in the telling of their own stories can often have a major impact on how a story sounds, and thus, the changes evolve into a legend of their own. That’s pretty much the central issue at the case with one of the most notable anecdotes involving Jack Kirby’s famous move to DC in 1970 after years at Marvel Comics, where Kirby essentially created the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee.
From the famous Gary Groth interview with Jack Kirby (and Roz Kirby) in 1989 (I assume. It ran in early 1990):
GROTH: When Infantino came out and talked to you, did he offer you all this, or did you actually negotiate for it? Did you tell him you wanted more control over the work?
ROZ KIRBY: He just said we’d like you to work, and Jack said, “Well, I’ll give you three books.”
GROTH: But it was Jack who basically made the suggestion that he do the books, that he have control over them, and so forth.
KIRBY: Yes. That’s what I wanted, and I told Carmine, and he gave them to me. And the books I did for DC were—
ROZ KIRBY: They offered him Super man, but he said he wouldn’t take Super man.
KIRBY: No, I wouldn’t take Super man.
ROZ KIRBY: But he says, “What’s the worst selling book?” and he says, “Jimmy Olsen.” He says, “Give me Jimmy Olsen, and I’ll see what I can do with it.”
KIRBY: I took Jimmy Olsen because it was a dog. It didn’t have the sales of Super man, and I felt the best way I could prove myself was taking a book that was slow and speeding up it’s sales. That’s the way to prove yourself. And so I took Jimmy Olsen, and Jimmy Olsen became part of the series of books that I did for DC, and they all made money. Jimmy Olsen was making money. DC couldn’t believe it. [Laughter.]
And so, over the years, Jack Kirby asking for “the worst-selling book” and then bragging about how he could turn it around, detailed as specifically:
“Give me your worst-selling book and I’ll make it your best-selling book,” Jack Kirby said to DC Comics publisher Carmine Infantino.
Challenge accepted. Infantino was on the verge of approving Leo Dorfman and George Tuska as the new team on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen but gave it instead to Kirby, whom he just lured away from Marvel Comics in 1970.
(Just one variation of that same basic story)
And, like most legends, there is obviously a little bit of truth mixed in there, but not enough to make the legend actually “true” in the most commonly accepted sense of the term. In reality, as Mark Evanier (who was around the Kirby family at the time of Kirby’s move to DC) has pointed out a number of times, the important thing is that Kirby didn’t want to do ANY existing DC title. Heck, he originally didn’t want to do PERIOD comic books, at least not in the traditional sense. He wanted to try digests, magazines, graphic novels, all sorts of experimental ideas that he looked to this new move to DC as being the place where he could try out new ideas. DC did let him try SOME of those concepts out (before quickly canceling them), but in general, DC wanted him to do comic books, and it wanted at least one of them to be an existing DC property.
At that point, Kirby didn’t really care. DC nominally told him he could take over any book that he wanted (the Kirbys noted above that DC offered him the main Superman title, after all), and Evanier thinks while that was an actual offer, that the company probably would have tried to guide Kirby away from certain books (like Batman and Detective Comics were in the midst of a move to Neal Adams-inspired artwork in the books, so had Kirby said he wanted to do Batman, it would have probably been a bit of an awkward conversation), but Kirby didn’t really care WHAT book that he did. It is there that Kirby likely DID tell Carmine Infantino something like “Give me your worst-selling book, and I’ll make it your best-selling title” as he didn’t care what book he took over. What Kirby DID care about is that he didn’t want to kick out a creative team, as, again, he wasn’t really interested in taking over a book PERIOD, so he really didn’t want to get a creative team fired while taking over a book he didn’t even want, and that was what led us to Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, as its artist, Pete Costanza, was retired from comics due to some health issues. As noted above, George Tuska was probably going to be the new artist, but that wasn’t definitive yet, and Leo Dorfman had plenty of other work, so he wouldn’t miss the title. The series was moving from the office of the retiring Mort Weisinger to Murray Boltinoff, so this was really the perfect time to make a creative team change.
The key part of “give me your worst-selling book,” though, was that it was tied to Infantino’s interest in Kirby working on the Super man titles, which, as noted, were just ending their time with Mort Weisinger as editor and Infantino wanted to do some interesting new things with those books. This is important because Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen WASN’T one of DC’s worst-selling titles (which is another reason why I see this legend as more “false” than true, as Kirby DIDN’T take over one of DC’s worst-selling titles!). It wasn’t close to DC’s worst-selling title. However, it WAS the worst-selling Superman-related title (and was trending downwards), so I could easily see Kirby saying, “Give me the worst-selling Superman title, especially if there’s no creative team attached to it.”
So yes, the quote likely DID get said at one point, but I think that the context behind it was so different that the way that the quote has been used since is so misleading (again, Kirby didn’t want ANY existing DC title) that I think it is fair to call it false. But really, whatever, if you think it’s true in your estimation, feel free to take that position. I’m just laying out the facts, you can interpret them as you wish.
CHECK OUT THE MOVIE LEGENDS REVEALED!
In the latest Movie Legends Revealed – Is the iconic Shelley Winters story about her showing up to an audition with both of her Oscars true?
PART THREE SOON!
Check back soon for part 3 of this installment’s legends!
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