This past Saturday I had the pleasure of driving to New York City to see the “KING KIRBY” play at “The Brick” theater in Brooklyn. A few weeks ago my pal Lucky the Painproof Man shared the kickstarter link with me and I told my girlfriend “wow, there’s going to be a play about Jack! I wish I could make it to NYC to see that”– and on Father’s Day she surprised me with the tickets on behalf of my boys. It’s the most thoughtful gift I can ever remember receiving.
The play itself opened while people were being seated and you’re to Jack’s back as he’s drawing away at the drawing board. It gave me chills as I imagined being a fly on the wall watching him work. And then the auctioneer walks in to start auctioning off his work at Sotheby’s as he stands there listening in semi-disgust…. he stops the auctioneer before she can get to saying the price his original art has sold for. The playbill is a mock cover of the Sotheby’s auction that was held in June of 1994, only months after Kirby’s death.
Anyone who knows me or has been around my office knows that Jack is a big inspiration to me. Not really because of his art, but because of his true character and his amazing work ethic. He knew that the magic was in the work. In the “craft” as Will Eisner called it. I relate to that “spark” that comes. The spark that has molded my life and, like Jack, pulled me out of a rough childhood and the feeling of being able to entertain and help others through with stories told in sequential art.
The play bills itself as “The hysterical and heartbreaking true story of artist Jack Kirby, “the King of the Comics.” And it truly was heartbreaking in the most amazing of ways. After the play we were invited out by the co-playwriter, Crystal Skillman and she asked me as kind of a Kirby expert what parts surprised me or was there anything that I had learned. Well, I was familiar with every story told throughout the play, but that didn’t matter. What did impress the hell of of me was how well this play was put together and how much history they packed into 75 minutes.
The actors were outstanding. Steven Rattazzi who plays Kirby really made you feel it. The spark. Or when he would stop to address the audience about what was really important or how the character really felt. Especially Kirby’s thoughts on World War II and the violence he had witnessed and how it changed him as a man but made him understand being human a lot more. Joe Mathers who portrays Joe Simon really did a great job of playing the friend that Kirby had in Joe. I love how this play really captured the friendship and amazing team of “Simon and Kirby” that was the spark that created modern comic book culture all around us.
And then there is the timeless huckster, Stan Lee. Nat Cassidy did a great job in portraying the funky flashman, double talking charlatan. He nailed Stan Lee’s voice. And the over the top dialogue that Stan was known for ranting in normal conversations. I got a great laugh when they introduced his character by having him playing the flute (poorly) in the Timely offices and annoying the fuck out of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. They did a great job of showing the weird nepotism that went on at Timely/Marvel.
Lastly, King Kirby also has elements of a being a love story. They maybe didn’t focus on this part enough, but with the limited time they had to scrunch down into 75 minutes it’s understandable. The story of Jack and Roz is very endearing. Roz, played by Amy Lee Pearsall, took care of Jack and became his armor over the years. I couldn’t help but get choked up a few times in those scenes. When they met and Jack asked her up to see his “etchings” – and the scene where Jack was going off to war and pulled out a ring and she freaked out, but he was humble and said “Well, don’t be too excited, I’m going to war” – And Roz had him promise to draw and send back all he saw. You see over time Jack was becoming a jaded Yankee and thought he was devolving into an apathetic nazi killing machine, and then a letter from Roz would come and it kept him human. Reminded him of what was important.
I really want this play to be a movie. It sheds a light on something the public doesn’t know. In the play Stan Lee’s character says in a dream sequence that the public doesn’t really care about the real story. That sometimes you just have to “make stuff up”. With the success of all the Marvel movies based on characters that Jack created and Stan took credit for, I really think that story in an of itself deserves to be told and could be even, dare I say it, Oscar worthy. I mean… the story about the guy who really made all the things that blew Hollywood up, but he never got credit for.
The other thing that kept making me tear up was the the thought of Kirby’s family coming to see this play. And what an honor it is to their father and grandfather. I wasn’t the only one in the audience moved to tears. I really hope they get a chance to see this. And if they don’t get to see the play, I hope they get to see a version of this on the big screen one day soon. Bravo to husband and wife team Crystal Skillman and Fred Van Lente for making this happen.
(All photos except the first one by Hunter Canning, thank you!)