My interview about Jack Kirby and Will Eisner and their centenary at Tripwire Magazine:
TRIPWIRE: 2017 is the centenary of the birth of Jack Kirby. Why is he still significant a century after his birth?
DEAN HASPIEL: Walk into a comic book shop. Read a newspaper. Turn on a television. Watch a movie. Skim the internet. See that? Notice anything about pop culture and American mythology? For better or for worse, a lot of that has to do with Jack Kirby co-creating the Marvel universe and adding significant characters to DC Comics’ lore. Dunno what I’m talking about? Google it. Better yet, ask your local comic book retailer to get you hip and turn you on. If you know who Stan Lee is but you don’t know who Jack Kirby is (or, for that matter, Steve Ditko), that’s a critical error that’s currently being corrected by fans, peers, journalists and CEO’s across the nation.
TW: 2017 is also the centenary of the birth of Will Eisner. Why is he still significant a century after his birth?
DH: Some folks might not remember newsstands but that’s where I first discovered comic books before comic book shops arrived. Back before comic books transitioned into collections and graphic novels (not to forget to mention webcomics). It’s said that Will Eisner coined the term “graphic novel” because he wanted his latter, more sentimental work to be taken more seriously. Eisner respected the form and pushed it into literary realms where bookstores and library’s had to carve out dedicated sections for the historically criticized medium. Eisner championed creator-owned publishing and innovated the industry with comic book supplements of his series, The Spirit, in newspapers to educational comics for the army in World War 2, to the now internationally embraced graphic novel.
TW: What did Kirby bring to comics that no one had done before?
DH: Jack Kirby ingeniously collapsed crime with science fiction and romance, helping reinvent the superhero genre we love today, while reaching for God. A product of the Great Depression, I posit that Kirby’s post-World War 2 comic book work is a result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, where he confronted his demons in the pages of Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Losers, Thor, O.M.A.C., The New Gods and The Eternals. Throughout his career, Kirby asked the universe a bunch of impossible questions and then dared to answer them.
TW: What did Eisner bring to comics that no one had brought before?
DH: Eisner seemed concerned with characterizing the city; bringing organic life to its structures in conjunction with the people he portrayed. A concrete jungle that shared profound drama with its citizens. Everyone and everything mattered in a Will Eisner story. The streets shared a pulse with its people and the reader was made to feel like an engaged voyeur into the heart of humanity.
TW: Both were Jews. Why do you think that comics has always attracted Jewish creators to it as an industry?
DH: Historically, Jews were maligned, as was comic books. It was a natural fit for Jewish artists to tell their stories in a bastard art form already stigmatized as delinquent by society. I remember having to defend my passion for reading and making comic books in junior high school. I still can’t believe how popular the source material and characters have become in 2017. Kirby and Eisner were forefathers who created classic, Rosetta Stone-type work that proved comic books are original, magical and necessary.
TW: What is the greatest legacy that Kirby’s work has left for us in the 21st century?
DH: Jack Kirby was never afraid to explore his unexpurgated imagination. While other people were talking about their ideas, he was too busy manifesting his own. Jack Kirby was a master of fiction that explored the emotional truths. Inspiring many, many artists to pursue the unlikely.
TW: What is the greatest legacy that the body of work that Eisner created has left for us in the 21st century?
DH: Will Eisner was instrumental in legitimizing the comic book medium. Our industry’s greatest award is named after him. He was a master of memoir that romanticized tragedy and hope.
TW: You are a comics writer and artist. How does Kirby’s work inform and influence yours?
DH: Jack Kirby’s work ethic was profound and what his work yielded reminds me to leave no stone unturned. Indulge your ideas, confront your demons, and make something that means something. No permissions, no apologies.
TW: And how does Eisner’s body of work inform and influence your work too?
DH: Will Eisner made grandiose fonts and titles out of city structures, giving a personality to otherwise taciturn items. A trick I’ve used in my own comix. His open panels and cinematic storytelling brandished mute theater where, sometimes, behavior told more story than text, making the reader the co-author.
An edited version of this interview appeared at The Jewish Chronicle: https://www.thejc.com/culture/features/jack-kirby-and-will-esiner-kings-of-the-comic-books-1.443377