After a career in comics and comic strips during which he met and worked with many of the greats of the Golden Age, Jack Katz turned to teaching only to be lured back to the world of comics after seeing the freedom of expression enjoyed by the Underground comics artists in the 1960s and 1970s. Katz was one of the first to explore epic length comic book storytelling with The First Kingdom, which he began in the 1970s and finished in the 1980s. First published in installments in an oversize comic book format by Bud Plant, the entire First Kingdom saga is being reprinted by Titan Books with the first two volumes due out this year. Katz graciously took time off from his latest project to talk with ICv2 about the strange genesis of The First Kingdom and his second career, which began at age 45, as a visionary graphic novelist.
You had worked in commercial comics for two decades, more or less; then you went to teaching. What made you decide to do The First Kingdom and did you have any models or role models for such an epic project?
Well let me explain the paradigm to you. Here’s what the deal is. I spoke to Alex (Raymond) and I spoke to Hal Foster and I said why not a visual novel? And they said, "Oh Jack, nothing like that is ever going come to pass." And I said, but look, you put your stuff together like in a book, and he said "it’s not the same thing." I had the idea, but the question is, how do I go about it?
Suddenly, here I am, I’m doing some teaching and boom, then it happened. The undergrounds. What the heck? Why not take a chance? The inspiration for The First Kingdom came to me in a dream when I was just three years old. Most of my major works owe their genesis to dreams I had as a kid. All the costuming from The First Kingdom comes from these dreams.
So I made up the first seven pages, and I showed them to the people at Comix and Comics (I think the only one alive now is Bud Plant). And they said well, we’ll do it. They figured it’d be one shot book. When they took a look at the size, they said, nobody uses a size like this, it’s like an old Time magazine--you know, long and up and down, and I said this is the only way I can give the figure work the opportunity for them to display themselves.
Well in the beginning it was very primitive. I don’t know, have you ever seen the early First Kingdom?
You have copies?
No. I worked for a distributor and we distributed it. So I looked at it.
Well I just want you to tell you something about that. The original, first sets are $1000, $1500--I can’t afford that! I’m telling you, this is what happens. Somebody just bought one of my old paintings for $16,000 bucks. It was on eBay, it was gobbled up immediately. There are people who know who I am.
I saw some of the later issues that Bud Plant was publishing in the 80s.
Yeah... Bud did not have a budget for advertising. But they gave me the chance to do The First Kingdom the way I wanted it to be done. No editing. It was just an extraordinary opportunity. Finally I could do the Kingdoms. And I started it at the age of 45.
Now I want to bring up a point. All of these people, they were "oh you’re 45, you’re over the hill!" I’m 85 now! I’m ready to take on Beyond the Beyond! And for heaven’s sake, you know, if you climbed Mt. Everest one time, it’s not a snap the second.
Before I started drawing The First Kingdom, the whole darn thing was already written. And believe me, you have to have a shooting script, no matter what anybody says. And I wrote it out, 768 pages. Actually it was well over 1000, 100 pages that I had to melt down, you know, on the cutting room floor.
So I started The First Kingdom, and by book 2 all four partners, including Bud, were getting very antsy and "I don’t know about this," but there was a magazine then called Rocket Blast [Comic Collector, or RBCC] and they gave The First Kingdom a rave, which put forward the possibility that maybe I had something as valid in its own way as the undergrounds.
And then I did two books a year, and it took much longer to be produced because Bud never had the kind of funding that was necessary. So finally I did a portfolio, also, for The First Kingdom that went out.
And by the way, if you look at Book 1, you will see Yoda before his time. You think I’m kidding?
And then there’s that... green guy flying around on that dragon, you know like in Avatar. I have concrete evidence as to the fact that the last time I did Avatar was in 1985. And all of those creatures are in all throughout The First Kingdom books, so what are you going to do? I’ll never forget this.
But you did a great job of creating a different world, with different plants and creatures.
When did you finish The First Kingdom?
The last book was 1986, that’s Book 24. After that, there was a big lull until I did Legacy. I never thought I’d go back into the field but now I’m involved with Beyond the Beyond. I almost thought I’d leave it in manuscript form, but apparently I’ll be able to pick up, and my art is just as strong as it ever was, If not better.
When the Kingdom started, I worked on it in earnest. But I had to take out a lot of stuff, which later became a part of The Space Explorers Club. There’s another thing here. In The Space Explorers Club, I let out a little hint as to the most innocent part of Beyond the Beyond.
And I said two people, a man and a woman, who have the unity of purpose, and perfect pitch. ...can meld together, become raw energy and go through the infinite-verse and try to break out of the seal around it, because there are a number of infinite-verses- universe, multiverse... and I said the infinite-verse has had us become so developed to this point so that the damage that was done, they could start to repair the damage, or go beyond it- to go to Beyond the Beyond. This is in Space Explorers Club. Which I hope you get a copy of that. It’s a good book. It’s drawn a little simpler (I mean the anatomy) than The First Kingdom.
Is Titan going to publish The Space Explorers Club too?
Yes, that’s going to come right after they finish with The First Kingdom. They are publishing that in four parts, The Birth of Tundran is available now with The Galaxy Hunters coming in December, Vengeance in March of 2014, Migration in June of 2014, then The Space Explorers Club in September of 2014, and Destiny in December of 2014.
By the way, I want you to remember the word "Migration."
To me there are three instincts. So the first instinct is to survive. The second instinct is the instinct to replicate, whether we like it or not. You want to call it love, I don’t care WHAT you call it, "the magic made in heaven," whatever. The third instinct is a very interesting one. It’s dormant in most people, and it’s latent in others. And that’s the instinct to migrate. Now there’s a major instinct. We all have it. It has nothing to do with "maybe we were all birds;" it is something else entirely.
As I’ve said, in Beyond the Beyond I talk about the re-creation, the bastardized re-creation that basically explains why everything we have is a makeshift. This is why pencils have erasers, because we make mistakes. This is why we age. This is why everything ages. This is why every system goes through the same situation. And I also explained in the nature of time in a different way than the scientist do, and I love my scientist friends but they cling so. It’s tribalism. They live in beehives. We have a scientific beehive, we have a spiritual beehive, we have an industrial beehive, we have an economic beehive, and this... they fight with each other, they have wars. On the other hand they protect each other from without. It’s like the defensive mechanism of the skin or whatever that protects us from the GMOs and the pesticides as and the conditioners they put in the foodstuffs.
OK so the The First Kingdom itself, if you want to look at just what revolves around that, I thought that it was pretty complete within itself and it was also preparing the way for The Space Explorers Club, which I know you’ll enjoy. The work was a little simpler, but the drawing is just as fine if not better. In fact a number of people have said to me, the drawing of Legacy was superior to The First Kingdom, and in some ways it is, it’s more human, and of course, the last book is weird. It kind of puts the cap on it, but it also leaves open the opportunity for Beyond the Beyond. Because I’m only 85, you know; I start a new series.
Editor's Note: Jack Katz will be promoting the new edition of The First Kingdom at the San Diego Comic-Con; Jack Katz will be at the Titan Comics panel ‘Launching at SDCC and Beyond!’ on Friday July 19, 12:00PM, room 32AB and will be signing advance copies of The First Kingdom Vol 1: The Birth of Tundran on the Friday as well at 3:00PM, Autograph Alley AA07.
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