King Kirby

As the audience takes their seats, they see a man hunched over an easel, drawing pictures on a large sheet of paper with feverish intensity. The man wears a white button down shirt, red suspenders and slacks. Old timey jazz is playing. Soon the house lights fade along with the music as a Sotheby’s auctioneer takes center stage, and the man pauses his drawing to listen to what she has to say. She is informing the crowd that she is pleased to have several of Jack Kirby’s original works up for auction and that his recent death has driven up their value. (The year is 1994). Kirby's Amazing Fantasy #15, the first Spider-Man, appears on the screen behind her. As the auctioneer starts the bidding, the man on stage reveals himself to be Kirby himself, shouting “That’s enough! Don't wanna hear that number. Nothing's worse than hearing what you're worth after you're gone.” The auctioneer announces that the magazine is sold and the Fantastic Four #1 cover image replaces Spider-Man. Before she can auction off the pencils Kirby used for that cover, the lights above her fade and she disappears. Kirby takes center stage, slipping easily into the role of narrator, bringing the audience back to the Lower East Side where, in 1917, his story began.

The show is ultimately a tale of his exploitation by American capitalism in the guise of Marvel Comics. In the end Kirby is informed by his partner, Marvel writer and editor Stan Lee

King Kirby (written by husband-and-wife team Fred Van Lente and Crystal Skillman, directed by John Hurley) is one of several shows running at The Comic Book Theater Festival Issue #2 at The Brick in Williamsburg through June 29. Fast paced and lean, King Kirby chronicles the career of comic book artist Jack Kirby (creator of Captain America, Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor, The Avengers, Spiderman, X-Men and more). The show is ultimately a tale of his exploitation by American capitalism in the guise of Marvel Comics. In the end Kirby is informed by his partner, Marvel writer and editor Stan Lee, that after many years of prolific output he has been no more than a craftsman for hire, and Kirby loses the rights to his work and future royalties.

Steven Rattazzi is strong and sympathetic as Kirby, and a talented ensemble cast of character actors (Amy Lee Pearsall, Joseph Mathers, Nat Cassidy, and Timothy McCown Reynolds) brilliantly portray everyone else, each actor playing multiple roles. It’s amazing how much of Kirby’s life is covered in a mere 75 minutes, without the narrative ever feeling confusing or rushed.

Even if you’re not a comic book enthusiast, you will appreciate this well packaged show and what it says about artists working within the walls of corporate America. Especially poignant is the final dialogue between Kirby and Stan Lee. Kirby says, “The work is the magic.” Stan Lee responds with, “If it was magic, it wouldn’t be work, Jack! It is so much easier to be something than it is to do something.” But Kirby stands firm in his belief, and he couldn’t be more right. 

Reviews by Amanda Miller



The Blurb

Jack “King of the Comics” Kirby is the most famous artist you’ve never heard of. Husband-and-wife playwriting team Fred Van Lente (award-winning, New York Times best selling comics writer of Cowboys & Aliens and Action Philosophers) and Crystal Skillman (NYIT Award-winning playwright of Geek, Cut, and The Vigil) combine their talents with director John Hurley (Action Philosophers!, Lickspittles, Buttonholers and Damned Pernicious Go Betweens, and The Vigil) to produce this hysterical and heartbreaking tale of how he poured his quintestially Twentieth Century life into his comics, and the fateful, tragic mistake that led him to obscurity, while his creation became known to every person on Earth.