Bruce Timm Interviewed
Interviewed by and © George Khoury with Pedro Khoury III
Kirby Collector #21
NOTE: This is just a small portion of Bruce's interview. For the
full version, be sure to order a copy of TJKC #21.
(He is the backbone of The Batman and Superman Adventures and the
new animated show Batman: Beyond. His long Emmy award-winning animation
career began somewhat by accident; what he really wanted to be was
a comic book artist. So this man, along with his partner-in-crime
Paul Dini, created the Eisner and Harvey award-winning comic book,
The Batman Adventures: Mad Love. If you've enjoyed his work, you
would have long noted the Kirby influence within him and how he's
kept the King's memory alive on the small screen. From Jack's in-your-face
action in Batman to Kirby's massive armory collection in Superman-it's
all so very Jack Kirby, yet so very much a part of Bruce Timm.)
THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR: When was the first time you saw Kirby's
BRUCE TIMM: It had to have been in the Sixties, without knowing
who Jack Kirby was or anything. I was too young to really appreciate
it. I was born in '61; you can do the math. When I was younger, we
didn't really have a lot of comic books in the house; we weren't poor,
but we weren't well-to-do. I would only get comics occasionally when
I was sick. But I'd see all the super-hero shows on TV like Batman
and Space Ghost, and the Marvel cartoons. The very first time I saw
Jack Kirby was probably the Marvel Super-Heroes Show: An adaptation
of the first Sleeper story they did in Captain America. They just took
still images from the comics and put them on cels and just kinda pulled
the background. Occasionally, they'd animate an arm; but I loved those
films when I was a kid.
When I was thirteen, there was this guy on the street that had a drawer
full of comics his cousin had given him and he said, "You want
'em?" I said, "Sure!" He had just a little bit of everything:
One of them was a Marvel's Greatest Comics reprint with the first Black
Panther story. That probably was actually the first Kirby comic I ever
got. Actually in the same drawer full of comics there were a couple
of Mister Miracles and the Demon, so that kinda put the zap on my head.
TJKC: What do you think made his art so unique?
Bruce: Well again, you could really focus on the action and
the fantastic elements that stick out: The zig-zaggy lines, the fantastic
machinery, and everything else. A lot of that is wonderful stuff-it's
stuff that I kinda appropriated into my own comic book work-but the
wonderful thing about Kirby is he was a born storyteller; he could
make anything look interesting even if he didn't have super-heroes
to play with.
It's funny; one of the guys and I just the other day were looking
at an issue of Justice Inc. he did. You could tell it was at the end
of his tenure at DC and he didn't really give a sh*t about it. The
Fourth World had already gone away and Kamandi was about the only thing
he had created that was still going strong, and he was just waiting
out time so he could go back to Marvel. He was doing this Justice Inc.
book and he really didn't care about it but he just couldn't help but
do a good drawing. It's not his best work but even so, there are still
gems on every page, even if it's not an action scene. There's just
a natural sense of composition and a natural sense of drama.
TJKC: Did you ever meet Jack at a convention?
Bruce: Yeah. I wish I could say I had a wonderful conversation
but I met him only a couple of times, and just long enough to say, "Oh
Jack, I just wanted to shake your hand and tell you I think you're
wonderful." I didn't know what to say to him. I did not know how
to have a conversation with him; I regret that. The thing is, for years
before he died, I was living in Agoura Hills-which is five minutes
away from where he lived-and there were plenty of opportunities I could
have easily gotten and introduced myself to him. I could have spent
an evening and had a conversation with him but I never ever did. I
really regret it.
I actually have to drive past Jack's grave every morning on my way
to work! It haunts me.
TJKC: Are there any Kirby elements in the Batman/Superman show?
Bruce: Absolutely, especially on the Superman series-less so
on the Batman show. We knew exactly what we wanted to do with Batman-you
know, the Film Noir/Art Deco kind of look on it. When the time came
to do Superman, we really didn't know what to do that would make it
visually different from Batman but at the same time just as cool. We
didn't wanna go back and make it look just like the Fleischer cartoons;
I didn't want anybody to put our show up against Fleischer's and say, "Well
look, they're doing the Fleischers, just not as well." One of
the things we wanted to do with Superman was to kind of "Marvelize" Superman
a little bit. That's why the police don't just carry handguns, but
these Kirby-like weapons. All of the science-fictional elements in
this series-whether it's a tank or something from outer space-has a
kind of Kirby feel to it, or at least we try to. Even in the pilot,
the origin story, there's this Brainiac satellite floating around Krypton
and we tried for the longest time to come up with a design for it,
and we didn't come up with anything I really liked. I found this Kirby
gizmo in one of the Kirby comics and I turned it upside-down and said, "Hey!
That's our satellite." There are things like that all the way
through the show where we would just find Kirby-ish elements and turn
them into things in the Superman show. I also try to do that with some
of the villains. A lot of the Superman villains aren't nearly as interesting
as the Batman villains. Batman has the best rogues gallery in comics
and the Superman rogues gallery is pretty dull. We would take characters
like Brainiac and the Parasite-that are pretty dull looking in the
comics-and go, "If Kirby were designing them, what would he do
with them?" So we would put Kirby-type costumes and Kirby touches
on them to make them more interesting.
TJKC: Was Ben Turpin based on Jack?
Bruce: Oh, definitely. Absolutely, it was based on Jack. That's
something DC Comics had been doing for a while anyway, using the stuff
that Jack created: The Fourth World characters, Intergang, and all
that stuff. They've really been introducing that stuff in the Superman
comics recently. We thought that's a natural; we love Jack's stuff
anyway. The Turpin character in the comics didn't look anything like
Jack but I decided it would be kind of fun, kind of a little throwaway
tribute to Jack, to just make the character look like Jack.
TJKC: How about the tribute to Jack in the Fourth World episode?
Bruce: Again, when we were doing Superman, we were trying to
find interesting villains for him to come up against. The regular Superman
villains are pretty uninteresting and most of them are fifty-year-old
fat guys in suits. We figured, "Well, there's Darkseid; let's
definitely use Darkseid in the show." So Paul Dini and I were
sitting around one day trying to figure out what we were going to do
with Darkseid and the New Gods, and we just started throwing out ideas.
For one thing, what does Darkseid want? It's not just enough for him
to conquer the Earth; why does he want to conquer the Earth? We went
back to the comics to figure out: What is Darkseid's motivation, and
what is the Anti-Life Equation? We decided we couldn't figure it out
ourselves. We got the idea that maybe even Jack didn't know what he
was doing! He had this really cool idea and even if he had something
that he meant to do with it in the comics, the series was cancelled
before he had a chance to. The Anti-Life Equation makes sense in the
comics but it's kind of a big nebulous thing, and we only have 20 minutes-or
at most 40 minutes-to tell a story. So we had to make it easy for eight-year-olds
to understand. Our version of the Anti-Life Equation is basically that
he feeds on the despair of people, so that's why he wants Earth and
that's why he wants to destroy Superman. He's going to come to Earth
and take their greatest hero and reduce him to nothing. He's going
to feed off the despair of the entire planet. Then I came up with the
idea that he's going to set off a bomb on a nuclear power plant and
basically set up a burn hole through the Earth, to turn Earth into
Apokolips II. The story idea just kind of blew back and forth.
I wanted Superman to sit out the whole climax; I didn't want Superman
to be the hero. Darkseid's idea was, if he totally defeated Superman,
human beings would be so shell-shocked and disheartened by it that
they would just give up easily, and I said, "That's not right." I
wanted humanity to be the hero, not Superman. That's where the whole
thing with Turpin came about; we thought Turpin should be the guy.
It's like that story that Kirby did, the one where Turpin dukes it
out with Kalibak, but just by his own will power he dominates.
TJKC: Was Roz Kirby alive at the time the episode aired?
Bruce: She died just a couple of weeks before that episode aired.
It's kind of ironic and sad that she didn't get to see it. I'm sure
she would have enjoyed the tribute to Jack, but since we killed "Jack" in
that episode, I didn't want to upset Roz. We had his funeral in there
too. I didn't want to cause her any more pain and misery by having
her see that. It's a double-edged sword.
TJKC: Will there be any more goodies for Kirby fans in the
Bruce: Ah, I don't know. (laughter) There's definitely going
to be more of Darkseid and Granny Goodness and the Female Furies in
the new season of Superman starting this fall. There's a two-parter
actually bigger than the New Gods one we just did: More destruction,
more Earth-shattering events. In terms of using other characters, I
don't really know. There was this Mister Miracle plot floating around
for a while but I wasn't happy with it so that was put on hold until
we could figure out what to do with it; but I'd love to use Mister
TJKC: I read somewhere there was a possibility of a Kamandi
or a Fourth World animated movie. Was there any truth to that?
Bruce: I don't know how that rumor even got out! That's something
we've just started talking about among ourselves. It was a kind of
a truthful rumor. We talked about it once, when we finished the new
season of Batman and we hadn't yet got the pick-up on Superman or Batman.
We were just going through the whole list of DC characters that we
had the rights to, and we thought, "What would be a good series
for kids?" I just immediately thought of Kamandi. I thought Kamandi
would be a great kids' show. We never really did much more on it than
that; we just talked about the possibility that we might do it. Then
we got busy doing the new Batman and Superman, and kind of put it on
hold for a while, but I'd still love to do a Kamandi show. I think
Kamandi is a great character. It's actually my favorite Kirby comic
from the DC era. I like the New Gods and Mister Miracle and everything,
but there's something about Kamandi. I think it's his best writing.
TJKC: I was always more of a Marvel fan and Kamandi seemed
a lot like Devil Dinosaur. Did you like that?
Bruce: Devil Dinosaur is the only Kirby comic I have resisted.
I've never actually read Devil Dinosaur so I can't comment one way
or the other; for some reason the whole idea didn't really appeal to
me. Everybody raves about it; all the people who work in my crew go, "Devil
Dinosaur is great, you've got to read it." One of these days...!
TJKC: What did you think of Kirby's work in animation when
he came back to the field during the Seventies?
Bruce: Well, it's kind of a loaded question-hard to say. Jack
had a great imagination and obviously his drawing skills hadn't gone
anywhere. He was still as good an artist as he ever was. His stuff
doesn't really translate into animation immediately, but unfortunately
a lot of the cool stuff that he came up with, other people had to turn
it into animation models and it lost the juice that Jack originally
had on it-which is kind of what you have to do anyway. You just can't
literally take a Kirby drawing and animate it, because there's too
much stuff that has to be translated.
TJKC: What do you think was the best interpretation of Kirby's
work on the small screen?
Bruce: Not to toot my own horn, but I'm pretty proud of the
New Gods two-parter we did. I think that was a pretty decent attempt
at trying to do Kirby-style concepts and designs. Unfortunately, shows
like the Silver Surfer and the Fantastic Four show from a couple of
years ago-I think their heart was in the right place. I think they
tried to do Jack Kirby in animation, but you can't just literally take
Jack's designs and eliminate some of the extra detail and just put
it on the screen that way. When we did the New Gods episode-when I
did the original character designs for Orion I said, "Okay, I'm
going to make this character look exactly the way Jack would have drawn
it." But the minute you start drawing him in the proportion that
Jack drew him, he's only five-and-a-half feet tall. So suddenly the
character looked liked a midget; he didn't have the power that Orion
needs to have. I had to try to keep the spirit of Kirby without actually
making it a strict literal adaptation of his artwork. So Orion feels
right even though he doesn't look exactly the way Jack drew him.
TJKC: Who's your favorite Kirby inker?
Bruce: My favorite Kirby inker is unusual; it's Frank Giacoia.
A lot of people don't have him listed as their favorite inker but he's
mine. I love Sinnott too. I love Chic Stone. I love Mike Royer, I think
he's way up there on top. But for my money, my favorite comics are
those inked by Frank Giacoia. Fantastic Four Annual #5 is my favorite
Kirby comic ever.
TJKC: And finally, what's your beef with Thor? On your website,
you've done drawings of Thor getting the daylights kicked out of him
by virtually every super-hero in existence.
Bruce: Here's how that came about. At the time of the Batman
show, we'd often have a discussion-Who's your favorite Kirby inker?
Who's your favorite Kirby character?-which is a typical fanboyish thing.
Kevin Alteri, the director, was going on at one point saying how he
thought that Thor was the peak of Jack's career. I was like, "Yeah,
Thor is really, really good, but there's something really great about
those New Gods comics." Kevin was like, "New Gods is nothing
compared to Thor. They're not really as good." On one hand, yeah,
they're not quite as perfect as the Thor comics but they're great to
look at. You can't beat that Royer inking! He's like, "Nah, the
Colletta stuff is the best." He was actually saying that. So I
did this one drawing of Orion beating up on Thor, and I inked Thor "Colletta
style" and I inked Orion "Royer style," and that was
the first drawing I did. I basically ended up doing a whole series
of all these other Kirby characters beating up on Thor because that
was Kevin's favorite character. That's all it was about; I have nothing
against Thor. I love the Thor comics.
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