In honor of the late great King of comics!

 

Of all the artists that have influenced me throughout my life (a topic for another time), there has been none more so than Jack “King” Kirby. Growing up in the seventies, it was his dramatic style of form and composition that I instantly gravitated to. His bold, sometimes experimental, always unique style of drawing captivated me from the first days of my comic collecting.

As a young boy learning to draw I found myself wanting to draw like Jack. I would take pages of his comics and copy them, teaching my eye as well as my hand the elements of foreshortening and dynamic poses. (As well as the famed cosmic Kirby dots) I would later grow to develop my own style, but his artwork would continue to silently influence me throughout my life.

 

And here is a true story. One of my fondest.

When I was growing up in Thousand Oaks, California, and frantically traveling to my local 7-11 each week to grab up my handful of comic books, I somehow discovered that Jack Kirby also lived in the very same town. For the life of me, I have no idea how I discovered this obscure fact. Perhaps I read it some bullpen bulletin. I don’t remember. I do, however, remember thinking to myself I would love to meet him.

Skip ahead a few years to 1984. I was young, still in high school, a social outcast and fettering all my free time drawing at home. And yet I thought to myself, I need to meet this man and show him my artwork.

So I did something I swear I don’t know how I got the balls to do. I looked him up in my local phone book and called him. Just like that! Out of the blue! Even more astonishing, he answered the phone. My heart was pounding so hard, it felt like the very cosmic rays that created the Fantastic Four were punching through my soul. I’m sure I must have stammered as I squeaked out my appeal. I told him I was a huge fan (by that time I’ve been collecting comics for nearly a decade) and that his artwork had had a huge influence on me.

I didn’t know what to expect really. I hadn’t thought it all the way out. Perhaps I thought he might give me some advice over the phone. I was hardly prepared when he casually suggested that I come over to his house with my artwork in tow and we can talk about it. Unable to believe my incredible fortune, I accepted. And just like that, I was heading up into the golden Conejo Valley hills to visit the king of comic books.

With my portfolio in hand, I drove to his home high in the hills filled with equal parts of fate-driven determination and pure giddiness. I was greeted by Jack himself as well as his wonderful wife Roz. I believe she offered me lemonade or ice tea. I just know it was wet. My head was swirling so hard standing in front of my comic book idol; it could have been fermented yak milk for all I could remember.

He led me down into his work room, a huge room that seemed to span the entire length of the house with windows covering one side of the room letting in the tremendous view of the valley. If the view was spectacular, the room itself was golden. Everywhere I looked were scatterings of sketches from a Thing here, to a Kamadi there as well as a whole slew of Captain Victory drawings since that was his latest project. I had walked into my church.

We talked about drawing in general for a little bit. I showed him my rather pathetic portfolio to which he graciously went through each page, pointing out a nugget of something good here, a helpful critique there, and in the end suggesting that I may want to concentrate on the writing aspect of comics since it appeared I had a strong pull towards it.

We talked a little about working in comics in general with such classic Kirby advice like never give them your original characters. Overall it couldn’t have lasted longer than a half an hour, but for me, time both stood still and vanished in a blur. When it was time for him to return to his work, he walked me out and wished me good luck on my artistic endeavors. I thanked him profusely and told him how honored I was that he invited me over. And just like that, I said my goodbyes.

I never once asked for his autograph, although I think he would have given it. (I didn’t want to go over there completely in fan-boy mode.) I never brought a camera with me to get a photograph of the two of us, although sometimes wish I had, if only to remind myself that it did, in fact, happen. But until the day I die, I don’t think I will ever meet someone in the field as kind-hearted and generous as that man was to me. To take the time away from his busy schedule to invite a fan and potential artist to his home, to take the time to look over my artwork and give his advice, to make me feel welcome and not some burdensome geeky kid from the moment I called him up is rare indeed. Very few of us get to meet their idols.  I was fortunate enough to meet mine before he passed away. He will always be my inspiration and my king.

 

It would take me many years to actually follow my dreams of drawing, mostly due to other feelings of inadequacy, time constraints and the drudgery of life in general (but that’s a story for another time) But this one incident does crystallize one important fact: be bold! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Take chances. You never know what gold you might discover out there…or in yourself.

One final note:

Belligerence is not new. His first inception and appearance dates back to 1995 when I worked at an art store in California.  He was born in a comic strip I would do for the other people that work there. For the year that it lasted, it was great fun to do. It was a fun and dramatic time in my life and I don’t regret it at all. Many of the upcoming plots and stories may well have come from the seeds planted in that time. Many more of the people who I worked with I have lost contact with and miss terribly. I wish them all well in whatever endeavors they are now in, not least of which, Belligerence himself.

And although Belligerence is only in Mateo’s imagination, I had to put him in, even if briefly, as a nod both to those heady early days as well as to an artist that has shaped me to what I am today.