Friday, July 28, 2017

A Chat with King Kirby director William Keith Cassidy



By Mike Rhode

Tonight a recent biographical play about comic book creator Jack Kirby will open for a three weekend run in Greenbelt, MD.
In 2014, comic book writer Fred Van Lente and his wife Crystal Skillman had a Kickstarter campaign to fund a staging of their “King Kirby” script.  At the time, they described the project as:
KING KIRBY is a play by the husband-and-wife team of New York Times bestselling comics writer Fred Van Lente and NYIT award-winning playwright Crystal Skillman about the life and times of Jack Kirby, the great comic book artist who created or co-created some of your favorite heroes on the page and screen, Captain America, the Avengers, Thor, Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Iron Man, Young Romance, the New Gods, Darkseid, The Demon… the list goes on and on.
From the Jewish ghetto of New York's Lower East Side to the battlefields of France to the Senate hearings of 1950s, this is a hysterical and heartbreaking story about a man who pours his quintessentially Twentieth Century life into his comics, only to make the fateful mistake that sends him into obscurity while his creations become known to every person on Earth.
Original 2014 production art by Ryan Dunlavey
A real-life "Adventures of Kavalier & Klay", King Kirby asks what happens when an artist doesn't own his own legacy? Can he ever get it back?
King Kirby has been a long-term passion project of Fred's; with Crystal's help, it's down on paper. Now, with your help, we'll bring this astounding true story to life on stage.
The play has been staged several times (in Seattle and NYC) and is now coming to Greenbelt, MD via Off the Quill and William Keith Cassidy’s vision. A few days before the premiere, I talked to Cassidy (who was my daughter’s high school theater teacher and is a friend of mine) about some specifics of his staging.

Mike Rhode: When you cast Lee and Kirby, did you look at their real-life counterparts? Was that an issue for you?

Rehearsal shot of Josh Mooney as Jack Kirby and Erik Harrison as Stan Lee
William Keith Cassidy: The nature of the play, and especially our production, is very theatrical so I didn’t feel I had to. Also, everyone, and especially Kirby himself, ages several years in the show. Kirby is on stage the whole time so there can be no makeup. It has to be done with acting. We have people in the cast playing four or five parts each, so I didn’t feel that I needed to find people that looked or sounded like them. With the exception of Stan Lee, because he’s the most recognizable. Erik Harrison had the look, and if you read his blog post, he talks about how he always came back to a smile, a grin and this vibrant, youthful energy that Stan Lee has. The one thing I did want physically is that I did want Jack Kirby and his wife Roz to be somewhat the same age. They look like they belong together. I cast a Jack and Roz who are both relatively young, but I could have cast them as older people. I didn’t want to cast one as really young and the other as really old; then they don’t look like they belong together. Whatever their aging is, they have to go together. The play all these lines about Kirby being short, but the actor isn’t and he has blond hair. I told him the other night, “I know you don’t look a thing like him, but by adapting his mannerisms, I think you look like Jack Kirby.”

MR: I have not read this play, so what time frame in Kirby and Lee’s lives is it set? Is it set at the start of the Marvel Age?

WKC: It’s pretty much Kirby’s whole life. It actually opens after he’s dead and there’s an auction of his work and Kirby is commenting on it as an ethereal figure. Then it immediately flashes back to him as a kid in the street gangs in New York City. It goes through his life. We don’t even get to Marvel until the last third of the play.

MR: How long does the play run then?

WKC: There’s no intermission and it’s about an hour and thirty-five minutes.

MR: So that’s a lot of work for Josh Mooney who’s playing Kirby…

WKC: Yes. There’s one scene between where he’s working for Max Fleischer and then going to work for Victor Fox, where he leaves the set. It’s the only time he leaves the stage. For four minutes, he’s not on stage. 

MR: Are there any other comic book people in it?

WKC: Joe Simon is a major character. The original production had Kirby and then only four other people. The actress who played Roz played all the females. The actor that played Simon played a bunch of people. I thought there were certain characters that were important enough to Jack’s life and recurred often enough to be their own actor. I didn’t want them to be ensemble people. My Simon, Lee and Roz  - those are the only roles they play.

MR: So this is a deep dive into comics for an average person – how much did you have to work to convince the theater that it would draw a wider audience?
 
WKC: I didn’t have to work that hard, actually. There was only one theater I wanted to take this to – Off the Quill. I knew some people there and we’d done some shows together. I’d seen a lot of their shows. Like I said, I wanted to have a very theatrical, stylized element and this theater is very good at that. My assistant director Patrick Mullen really handled all the staging, the transitions, and the movement pieces. He was the mover and shaker behind the stylized pieces, but I don’t think you have to have a strong knowledge of comic books. The more you know, the more you’ll appreciate it, but you can come in knowing nothing.

MR: I saw David Bar Katz's The History of Invulnerability about Superman creators Siegel and Shuster at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center years ago, and you didn’t necessarily have to be steeped in comics.

WKC: Right. There were things I didn’t know about Kirby. I didn’t know that he and Joe Simon pretty much created the romance comic books. That was something I learned coming into this.

MR: Is Kirby’s New York background a major part of his character?

WKC: Yes. I don’t know much he felt this at the time he did it, or if it was later while looking back, but the play includes his regret that he changed his name to Jack Kirby from Jacob Kurtzman, because he was very proud of his Jewish heritage and background. I don’t think he wanted to be perceived as someone who was trying to hide that. There’s actually a dream sequence at the end where he and Stan Lee are in a confrontation. The playwrights use the dream sequence to have a scene where Jack can say all the things to Stan that maybe he never said. One of the things Stan says is, “C’mon, you were ashamed,” and Kirby replies that he wasn’t ashamed.

MR: Everybody who was Jewish in comic books at the time changed their name. It would be hard to find someone who didn’t.

WKC: There’s a funny scene where Stan Lee is a young kid and he’s writing the prose story in Captain America Comics (which was mandatory for cheaper postage rates), and Joe Simon says, “Who’s Stan Lee?” Lee says “That’s me, I changed my name just like Jack.” Jack says, “I changed my name to sound less Jewish ,” and Joe Simon tells Lee that his name sounds Chinese and he’s changed one minority for another.
MR: When did you start working on this?

WKC: We had several meetings in the spring and we had auditions a week or two later. So in April, but we really got into it in May.

MR: Does the scenery have any fantastic elements?

WKC: It’s very open. We’re using projectors because I really want to create the idea that everything’s a comic book page. The projections are serving a lot of purposes. They’re showing his artwork, which is number one for me.  When I read the play, it seemed the purpose of the play was to let everyone know what his contributions were, so the art had to be center. There are several scenes where there’s a transition from one time to another – it goes from 1961 to 1969, so we’re going to project and show all the Marvel characters he created. We have him drawing, and all the work around him on the walls and floors. We have two projectors on the walls, and one on the floor. We also wanted to use the projectors to show time and place as we cover a sixty-year span, and we use the projectors to show how his life influenced his art. There’s one scene during a street gang fight where they freeze, and it merges into a later Jack Kirby panel with a Viking battle scene that works really well. The theater is a black box with the audience ¾ of the way around the stage.

MR: You’ve cast your son, Brett Cassidy, in the play?

WKC: He’s young, but he reads a lot older on stage. He’s nineteen years old and he’s 6’ 7”. He’s playing most of the bosses. He plays Victor Fox, Martin Goodman, General Patton… he’s playing all the characters that are intimidating.

MR: Whether it was true or not in the real world, Kirby apparently always felt put upon by anybody he worked for, and that comes through in the play?

WKC: Oh, yeah. It’s one of the main themes. It’s one of the things that I responded to personally. Kirby had no problem fighting in a street gang, or fighting in the Army in France, but tried to avoid personal conflict. He’s also a product of the Depression and he doesn’t want to hurt his job. Stability is important to him.

MR: Does the play cover his DC years [when he created The Fourth World and the New Gods]?

WKC: No, when he leaves Marvel, the play skips 20 years. The way we’re staging it, we’re doing a transition and will see the DC years through the artwork projections, but it really picks up again in 1982.
MR: The court case against Marvel for the return of his original art?

WKC: Yes, he’s at a convention and he realizes someone is selling his original art. That leads into the dream sequence with Stan Lee. We just know he leaves because he’ll get full credit at DC and not argue with Stan Lee over who did what. The lack of financial rewards is touched on too. He’s at this convention and a fan asks him to sign original art, and Kirby asks how he got it. He also asks the fan about his New Gods for DC, and the fan says he couldn’t get into it.

MR: One of my academic friends, Charles Hatfield, has written a book arguing that the New Gods are Kirby’s true vision. And for the new Justice League movie, at least one of Kirby’s characters is a villain, and the New Gods might be the background for the whole Justice League film series… hopefully Kirby’s is getting some of the profits.

WKC: I hope so. I love [local author] Marc Tyler Nobleman’s movie “Batman and Bill” about Bill Finger’s role in Batman. I didn’t know his story at all. 

MR: It’s interesting that comic book history is now focusing on creators instead of just the characters. I hope you are catching a wave.

WKC: I think so. Anybody that likes good theater will like it. Anybody that likes comic books will like it. We’ve got two good built-in audiences. It’s a great cast. 


For more information about the genesis of the play, read these two articles -


‘King Kirby’ Takes The Stage: Fred Van Lente On His New Play About Jack Kirby’s Life [Interview]

by Patrick A. Reed,  June 19, 2014




“It’s not created by a machine – it’s art created by people” – An Interview with “King Kirby” Playwrights Crystal Skillman and Fred Van Lente.

by Reid Vanier, June 19, 2014

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Flugennock's Latest'n'Greatest: "Section 8 Smoker"


From DC's anarchist cartoonist, Mike Flugennock -


"Section 8 Smoker"
http://sinkers.org/stage/?p=2285

While it's been legal to possess and consume cannabis in DC, citizens here can still only do it in their private homes, which leaves many rental housing residents -- particularly tenants in Federally-subsidized Section 8 public housing -- in a rough spot.

Thanks to a budget "rider" introduced by Maryland Rep. Andy Harris a year or so ago as part of a budget bill to avoid a government shutdown, the District Of Columbia is unable to use any of its city budget to implement cannabis taxation/regulation laws, or to implement laws to allow for communal smoking in clubs, bars or cafés and lift the public use ban.

This means that most of us in DC who live in rental housing are forced to either go to somebody else's house (basically, a "speakeasy") or take our chances in public, in a park or someplace, where people can smell it -- including the cops, who arrested 354 people last year for public smoking.

So, if you're a DC citizen who lives in rental housing and are forced to go to a friend's house or sneak around on the street because there's noplace to go to have a civilized smoke at happy hour, thank Md. Rep. Andy Harris.

11x17 medium-res color .jpg image, 1.3mb
--

"Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few...
Don't lend a hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools!"

-Grateful Dead

Aug 4: Jason Reynolds on Spider-Man at Hooray for Books


Meet the Author: Jason Reynolds
Friday, August 4: 6:30 pm

Hooray for Books! is thrilled to host rock-star author Jason Reynolds for the first time ever! Jason will present and sign his new book, Miles Morales: Spider-Man. In this novel for ages 12+, Brooklyn Visions Academy student Miles Morales may not want to be a superhero, but he must come to terms with his identity as the new Spider Man and deal with a villainous teacher.

In addition to Miles Morales, we have special permission from the publisher of Ghost and All American Boys to sell the paperback editions before their respective official publication dates of August 29 and 30.

Can't make it to this event but want a signed and personalized copy? Just place your order by Tuesday, August 1. To order, call 703-548-4092 or email order@hooray4books.com.



Hooray for Books! | 1555 King St • Alexandria, VA 22314 | 703.548.4092

NPR on June Foray's death

Whatever The Character, June Foray's Voice Was Warmly Familiar

July 27, 2017
http://www.npr.org/2017/07/27/539723457/whatever-the-character-june-forays-voice-was-warmly-familiar

Ben Claassen illustrates bathroom article

In today's Express, Ben Claassen III illustrates an article on the National Mall's bathroom for Sadie Dingfelder. It's also online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2017/07/27/i-visited-all-59-bathrooms-on-the-mall-heres-where-to-go-when-you-have-to-go/


"Becoming Stan Lee" for "King Kirby" play

Comic Riffs on the death of June Foray

RIP, June Foray: 'First lady' of animation acting voiced 'Rocky and Bullwinkle' and 'Tweety' roles


Washington Post
Comic Riffs blog July 27 2017

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2017/07/27/rip-june-foray-first-lady-of-animation-acting-voiced-rocky-and-bullwinkle-and-tweety-roles/

Remembering Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson, the ace cartoonist from Arlington, passed away a year ago today from complications of Parkinson's disease. I still find myself thinking I need to stop in when I'm on his side of town. Take a look at some of his drawings and share a smile in his memory today.
































Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"FRESH TALK: Who Are The new Superwomen of the Universe? on YouTube

FRESH TALK: Who Are The New Superwomen of the Universe

 Jul 26, 2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7jWik_m7LY

In the final Fresh Talk of the 2016– 2017 season, hear from four superwomen who are changing the universe of comics and beyond.

For much of comics history, women characters were introduced as plot devices for the leading male characters. Join us for a conversation about the new wave of superheroines entering the comic universe, leading the fight for justice and dispelling traditional stereotypes in fiction and beyond.

Speakers:
Carolyn Cocca, author of Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation
Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, Philadelphia
Gabby Rivera, YA author and writer for Marvel's AMERICA series
Ashley Woods, illustrator, graphic novelist, and artist for the Stranger Comics series, NIOBE: She is Life

Moderated by Emily Whitten, ComicMix.com writer and moderator of Awesome Con. Emily is based in Washington, D.C.

FRESH TALK: Who Are The new Superwomen of the Universe? Conversation

Published on Jul 26, 2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9JcuzscKaw

During this part of the program, listen to a conversation with speakers and moderator Emily Whitten, ComicMix.com writer and moderator of Awesome Con. Emily is based in Washington, D.C.


Retrofit Comics reviews

Big Planet's publishing arm gets reviewed at The Beat:

Reviews: Three thought-provoking new releases from Retrofit

by

Michael Maslin on the New Yorker cartoonists' advertising work

Linked to here because the images came from Bethesda's Warren Bernard -

Advertising Work by New Yorker Cartoonists, Part 1: Peter Arno; Shanahan's Sharks


http://michaelmaslin.com/advertising-work-by-new-yorker-cartoonists-part-1-shanahans-sharks/

Advertising Work by New Yorker Cartoonists, Part 2: William Steig


http://michaelmaslin.com/advertising-work-by-new-yorker-cartoonists-pt-2-william-steig/

Advertising Work by New Yorker Cartoonists, Part 3: Barbara Shermund


http://michaelmaslin.com/advertising-work-by-new-yorker-cartoonists-part-3-barbara-shermund/


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

NPR on Dykes to Watch Out For

A Favorite In Waiting: Alison Bechdel's 'Dykes To Watch Out For'


July 14, 2017
http://www.npr.org/2017/07/14/537052343/a-favorite-in-waiting-alison-bechdel-s-dykes-to-watch-out-for

NPR on children's comics

Books Received - July 2017

Newly published books continue to appear in my mailbox. I'll try to get notices of them up more regularly. 

I find myself enjoying much of Scholastic's line for young people. Sunny Side Up was one of my favorite recent semi-autobiographical books. A sequel comes out this fall, and is more episodic, but we do meet the older brother whose 1970s-era problems with drugs have led him to being enrolled in military school. Recommended.



 



The Holms are also expanding their Babymouse series beyond the juvenile graphic novel books into middle school and mixed chapter book style. Not read.


 It’s a new kind of book for Babymouse! Fans of Dork Diaries, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and James Patterson’s Middle School books, this is going to be epic. . . .

For Babymouse, middle school is like a monster movie. You can never be sure who’s a friend and who’s an enemy, and the halls are filled with mean-girl zombies. Instead of brains, the zombies hunger for stuff—the perfect wedge sandals or the right shade of sparkly lip gloss—and they expect everyone to be just like them.

But Babymouse doesn’t want to fit in—she wants to stand out! So she joins the film club to write and direct a sweeping cinematic epic. Will making the film of her dreams turn into a nightmare?

Thanks to Babymouse, middle school gets schooled in this hilarious new series from bestselling authors Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm.

 Christopher Eliopoulos has been using his big-head style on historical biographies with Brad Meltzer, but he also does a lot of other cartooning. His original graphic novel about receiving superpowers via a magic ring and then getting caught in a video game eventually becomes a story about the importance of family. This book is probably best for pre-teen boys, but I enjoyed it. Recommended.



Cosmic Commandos Hardcover – July 4, 2017
Dial

 In this graphic novel adventure for readers of Hilo and Roller Girl, a pair of twin brothers accidentally bring their favorite video game to life—and now they have to find a way to work together to defeat it.

Jeremy and Justin are twins, but they couldn’t be any more different from each other. Jeremy is a risk taker who likes to get his hands dirty; Justin prefers to read, focus, and get all his facts straight before jumping in. But they do have one important thing in common: They both love video games. When Jeremy wins a cereal-box charm that brings his favorite video game to life, villains and all, he finds that he’s in way over his head. Justin knows everything there is to know about the rules of the game—he read the handbook, of course—and Jeremy isn’t afraid to try new things. Can these two mismatched brothers work together to beat the video game that has become their life? 

Lee J. Ames died in 2011, but his Draw 50 series has been continued. Two new books with art by Erin Harvey were sent to us. Not read.


PR: Small Press Expo Announces International Special Guests



For Immediate Release
Contact: Warren Bernard
Email: warren@spxpo.com
 
Small Press Expo Announces International Special Guests Albert Monteys, Tommi Musturi, Anaïs Depommier and Alex Alice for SPX 2017
 
Bethesda, Maryland; July 17, 2017
 
Media Release - Small Press Expo is proud to announce its International Special Guests for SPX 2017. The festival takes place on Saturday and Sunday, September 16-17, at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center and will have over 650 creators, 280 exhibitor tables and 22 programming slots to entertain, enlighten and introduce attendees to the amazing world of independent and small press comics.
 
SPX 2017 is honored to have the following creators from Europe as Special Guests to this year's show:

Albert Monteys is a Spanish graphic novelist and illustrator, known for his works in El Jueves, a weekly satirical magazine that he directed from 2006 until January 2011.Albert created the series Carlitos Fax for the children's magazine Mister K. After his departure from El Jueves, in 2014, he founded a satirical monthly publication Orgullo y Satisfaccion (Pride and Satisfaction) with other cartoonists. That same year Monteys began to publish a science fiction comic ¡Universo! (Universe!) in Panel Syndicate, winning a 2017 Eisner Award nomination for Best Digital Comic. Albert's appearance at SPX is supported by a grant from Spain Arts & Culture.                                                                               

Tommi Musturi is a Finnish cartoonist, illustrator, graphic designer, and artist. In addition to his current ongoing series Walking with Samuel and The Books of Hope, Musturi contributes to the studio Kutikuti based out of Helsinki, which creates, publishes, and teaches comic art. Musturi co-founded Huuda Huuda in 2006 to translate international comics into Finnish, publish local comic artists, and get the word out about the vibrant Finnish scene by anthologizing the work in English. Tommi latest graphic novel is Simply Samuel from Fantagraphics. Tommi's appearance at SPX is supported by a grant from the Finnish Literature Exchange.
Anaïs Depommier was born in the late 1980s in a small village in the Southeast of France. Growing up a close friend of Mathilde Ramadier, they can't do enough sleepovers from one's house to the other. Inseparable at school, they spend their weekends building huts in the bush, watching the gendarmes go by, playing "Mouse Stampede" on a Macintosh Classic, and reading many comics. When it becomes time to prepare for the entrance exam to art school, they meet later in the evenings at the painter Jean-Michel Pétrissans' workshop in Valence. Anais first graphic novel, in collaboration with Mathilde Ramadier, is Sartre from NBM. Her appearance at SPX is supported by a grant from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. She will be appearing at SPX on Saturday September 16.
Alex Alice is a French graphic novelist whose works have been translated into more than fifteen languages. His comics in English include the esoteric thriller The Third Testament and the operatic fantasy Siegfried. In his latest, Castle in the Stars from First Second, he draws on Jules Verne and nineteenth-century romanticism to create a watercolor world of adventure and wonder. His appearance at SPX is supported by a grant from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. Alex will be appearing at SPX on Saturday September 16.
In the next few weeks, SPX will announce additional guests, special events, the 2017 Ignatz nominees and a full slate of programming.
 
Small Press Expo (SPX) is the preeminent showcase for the exhibition of independent comics, graphic novels, and alternative political cartoons. SPX is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit that brings together more than 650 artists and publishers to meet their readers, booksellers, and distributors each year. Graphic novels, mini comics, and alternative comics will all be on display and for sale by their authors and illustrators. The expo includes a series of panel discussions and interviews with this year's guests.
 
The Ignatz Award is a festival prize held every year at SPX recognizing outstanding achievement in comics and cartooning, with the winners chosen by attendees at the show.

As in previous years, profits from the SPX will go to support the SPX Graphic Novel Gift Program, which funds graphic novel purchases for public and academic libraries, as well as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), which protects the First Amendment rights of comic book readers and professionals. For more information on the CBLDF, visit their website at http://www.cbldf.org. For more information on the Small Press Expo, please visit http://www.smallpressexpo.com.