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"It's '57 Chevys and Elvis Presley!" Jack Kirby's Sky Masters

We chat with the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center about the King's first crowdfunding campaign.

Jack Kirby Sky Masters of the Space Force Zoop

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Tom Kraft and Rand Hoppe, the founders of the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center, about Sky Masters of the Space Force. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.


A year after Sputnik swam the stars, Jack Kirby launched his space race strip into Newspapers. Sky Masters of the Space Force was a tremendously earnest adventure built from the excitement and anxiety over which nation would claim the undiscovered country above. It didn't last long. 1958 - 1961. Yet, without it, would Jack Kirby have found his way to the marvelous Fantastic Four?

The Sky Masters Sunday strips had an even shorter run, lasting only from 1959 to 1960, but they spun a unique narrative parallel to the dailies. Most importantly, they were in color, color crafted by Kirby himself. Spanish designer Ferran Delgado previously collected these astonishing comics and published them in a long, out-of-print 2015 Eisner Award-nominated tome, but they've never been compiled in their complete form or presented in color.

Now, in collaboration with the crowdfunding company Zoop, the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center has assembled the Sky Masters Sundays in totality, which includes a hundred extra panels previously missing from reprints. Sky Masters of the Space Force - The Complete Sunday Strips in Color features all 54 Sunday strips remastered painstakingly and lovingly in "Kirby Kolor." In addition, the new collection contains essays from comics scholars, samples of original art, and numerous other goodies.

The new collection is the first project from the newly erected Kirby Museum Press, monitored and steered passionately by Kirby Museum founders Tom Kraft and Rand Hoppe. And, not for nothing, the Zoop campaign is the first ever Jack Kirby crowdfunded project. That's bonkers when you think about it.

So, to celebrate, we had to get Kraft and Hoppe on the phone. We break down the significance of Sky Masters of the Space Force, its place in comics history, and why they were compelled to bring this new edition into existence. Also, what was it like to stand in Jack Kirby's line as a kid? We get it on the record.


Jack Kirby, Sky Masters, and the Bridge

Brad: It's extremely exciting for the Kirby Museum to get into the publishing game. How did we get here? Why is this happening?

Tom Kraft: Good question.

Rand Hoppe: Well, we've been helping out a lot of publishers and authors over the years. I think we're coming up on 20 years.

Brad: Congratulations.

Rand Hoppe: Thank you.

Brad: I've been following you for almost all of those 20 years.

Rand: '25 will be 20. So we're in year 19. And we have a significant digital archive. Tom had this great idea back in the day of scanning Jack Kirby artwork for our museum, because prices were just so high that the idea of raising the money to build a collection is just ... It's too high, so let's be friends with people. They let us borrow their artwork for a little while? And we scan it. Not to say we haven't had some donations. We do have a small, extremely small collection of original art. But we've been working with publishers. We have a lot of stuff. I helped out Ferran Delgado with his Sky Masters dream project five, six years ago, and it eventually worked out for him, where he was kind of done with it, or he had published it and reached out to us and said, "Hey. Would you guys like the English language rights to my book that's hard to find, or if you find it, it's expensive?" So we kind of felt that was a perfect opportunity for us to issue a second edition of his book and inaugurate the Kirby Museum Press.

Tom Kraft: I would also say that we've been doing "The Kirby Effect" on the Kirby Museum website, which is different essays and stuff. So in a way, it's a journal. It was kind of the start of the idea of actually taking some of our content and putting it into publications.

Brad: Honestly, that's some of the stuff I'm most excited to see in this new edition - those articles that will bring context to Sky Masters. It's a unique entry in Kirby's catalog. Can you elaborate on that? Why is this a milestone publication?

Rand Hoppe: Well, Sky Masters of the Space Force is the missing link between Challengers of the Unknown and Fantastic Four. That's where it fits. It's the space race. It's the Sputnik era Jack Kirby, and he's working for newspapers, so it's kind of like a really true general audience, which he always worked for general audiences, but to have a newspaper strip as opposed to a comic book was kind of a big deal. So, I mean, that's the short version.

Brad: I don't think people appreciate how important the newspaper strip was. Or not even how important, but how widespread the audience for the newspaper strip was - everybody read the strips.

Tom Kraft: Yeah. And this was really an interesting period too because he was with Joe Simon at Mainline Comics. That kind of ended, and then there was the big crash in comic books. So he was looking for work, and he really wanted to get into newspaper strips. So in the book, we have additional content showing other types of daily strips and other projects he was proposing at the time, like Surf Hunters, for instance. It's interesting to see his efforts, in the late '50s, to try to get into the newspaper business.

Jack Kirby, Sky Masters, and Zoop

Jack Kirby Sky Masters OG Art Zoop
Image Credit © 2024 Kirby Museum Press

Brad: And what do you see in this Jack Kirby that you don't see elsewhere?

Rand Hoppe: Color.

Brad: Yeah. Color. Yes.

Rand Hoppe: Jack Kirby's color. He colored these Sunday strips. He created the color guides. And incredible, wonderful Wally Wood inks. An amazing combination.

Brad: Yeah. Wally Wood and Jack Kirby. If you're not excited about that, then you might want to check your pulse.

Rand Hoppe: Yes.

Brad: We're big fans of Zoop here at Comic Book Couples Counseling, and we're always curious to see the projects that go through their crowdfunding wizardry. And as far as I can tell, this is the first time a Jack Kirby project has been brought to life through the crowdfunding process. What brought you to Zoop?

Tom Kraft: Well, actually, I think [Rand] talked to Zoop a year or so ago, but I also knew about Zoop through Scott Dunbier, who works at IDW, and he recommended us going using them. We were in San Diego for Comic-Con last July, and they did a panel discussion, and we started talking.

Brad: And what are you finding to be the challenges of bringing the book into reality through this process?

Tom Kraft: Through the process? You mean production?

Brad: Yeah. Production. Any kind of challenges. I mean, crowdfunding is a nightmare on your own. You could do Kickstarter. But Zoop theoretically takes care of a lot of those hassles.

Tom Kraft: That's actually the reason why.

Rand Hoppe: I mean, we've had lots of great ideas for books and publications, but just to have Zoop in there, I don't know. I just get the sense that we're a tough, small organization, and they're a tough, small organization too.

Brad: You're just getting off the ground. Are you noticing anything, or are you catching any surprises regarding this process?

Tom Kraft: Yeah. I'm surprised that we're getting such a great return. The campaign's doing incredible. I didn't expect that. And it's been an exciting process of trying to figure out what the rewards are. And Rand came up with the idea of the T-shirt and the sticker and put all that together so quickly. So, we responded very quickly to get this thing going as early as possible in 2024.

Rand Hoppe: It's definitely like one of those hit refresh, F5 on the browser. Where is it now? Oh, my god. We made that dollar amount, and then those text messages and all this stuff. It's been really great. We really didn't know what to expect. We knew that Zoop was going to help get it out there. We know that when it gets down to it, we can do our social media, email blast, website stuff. But it happened. We got a great response, and we're hoping that it continues to be a great response through the rest of the 30 days that the campaign's going.

Brad: And I've been seeing a reaction from the creative community. I mean, obviously Jack Kirby is a legend, and so many people within comics hold him in incredible regard. But I also think the Kirby Museum has built such a good name for itself, and you two have a credibility with what you're doing that if you're putting out a project like this, it feels like a safe bet for the person hitting purchase.

Tom Kraft: I hope so.

Rand Hoppe: Well, that's nice to hear.

Tom Kraft: Definitely.

Jack Kirby, Sky Masters, and Stan Lee

Jack Kirby Sky Masters Interiors
Image Credit © 2024 Kirby Museum Press

Brad: One of the things I was curious to talk to both of you about regarding Jack Kirby is...I feel like there has been a little bit of a shift in the last couple of years, and I feel like it's probably since Stan Lee passed away, but the conversation and the celebration around Jack Kirby have intensified, in my opinion. Do you feel that to be the case?

Tom Kraft: I do. Yeah.

Rand Hoppe: Yeah. I think it has. We go through a little bit of troughs every once in a while where we're like, "Oh, what's happening with that? Why is that ..." But it has generally been that there is an increased awareness of Jack and his amazing creative talents both on the writing and the art side. So we're proud and honored to be a part of that and bringing that about and helping his legacy, because it's pretty vast. So it's kind of nice to see positive results.

Brad: Absolutely. I am still surprised by the people who don't really know the Jack Kirby story. I spend so much time within my own love of comics and my own love of various creators. I feel like everybody knows Jack Kirby's deal. But then McSweeney's put out an article just the other day by Mark Peters, and there was a line in there at the beginning of the article about, "Well, who's Jack Kirby? Jack Kirby created all the things you thought Stan Lee created and more," and that line really prickled some hairs online. I was like, "Oh. People are still having this conversation and having the same fights," but it's new people having the same old fight.

Rand Hoppe: Yeah.

Tom Kraft: I don't think that's ever going to end, to be honest.

Rand Hoppe: No. It's not.

Brad: Why? Why?

Tom Kraft: Well, I mean, because I think that when it comes to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, their careers are so intertwined and their contributions are so tightly wound together. I think there are some people that have grown up with Stan Lee as being the one that did everything, even drawing, and so some people feel that he's the only one that could have done everything, and they don't acknowledge Jack Kirby. But then there's the other side of people who believe that Jack Kirby was the inspiration for a lot of things at Marvel, and there's a lot of data to prove that. So it's really what set of data you want to believe, and that's never going to end. There's going to be people on both sides of the data stream.

Brad: And you guys have to be pretty sick of fielding questions like the ones I'm giving you right now. It's got to be a really old conversation.

Tom Kraft: Yeah. We have to be very diplomatic in a lot of ways because we are a museum, and we're presenting the cultural influences and the facts to the people, and it's up to them to decide what they want to believe, in my opinion.

Brad: And how do you two see yourselves now, having done so much good work with the Kirby Museum? What do you see as your role within the community?

Rand Hoppe: Well, we're kind of just a small island of Kirbyness in a vast sea of things that were inspired by Kirby. So many times, we'll be at Comic-Cons, a lot of times the San Diego Con. We'll set up there, which they're very gracious, and give us a booth as a fellow nonprofit. But any convention. Jack was instrumental in the growth of comic book conventions. He helped San Diego Con become what it is. He got me to go to the Creation Con and the Phil Seuling Con back in the '70s when I was a kid. It wasn't anybody else.

He knew that there were a lot of people out there who would want to convene and wear costumes and be interested in comic art and fantasy and science fiction and mythology. A lot of times, it's just like, "Look at this house. This is Jack's house," at these shows. And we're over there. We have our Kirby-drawn art that's owned by him, but we don't have a lot of Marvel or DC stuff that we sell. But it's fun just to be on this little island where we're Jack. Do you want Jack? Go talk to those guys, and buy a pin.

Jack Kirby, Sky Masters, and the Con

Jack Kirby Sky Masters Color Zoop
Image Credit © 2024 Kirby Museum Press

Brad: Tom, did you ever meet Kirby in a convention setting?

Tom Kraft: Never met him, believe it or not, but I feel like I have by his family and all my connections, definitely. I regret never meeting him, but never happened.

Brad: Rand, can you give me a memory of what it was like to stand in line for Jack Kirby?

Rand Hoppe: I'll give you the 14-year-old Rand version. He had a little ... What I would call an anteroom off of the ballroom in, I believe, Hotel Pennsylvania or the Commodore or something like that in New York City. And so we had a whole room. Whatever it says about me, I had absolutely nothing to say to him. I just stood there and watched him draw. And there was all this stuff going on. I think Roz was there. I think his son, Neil, was there, all kinds of people coming in, talking to him. What am I going to say? I'm a 14-year-old kid who likes Kamandi, and it was cool.

I got to be with him a few other times. He signed my New Gods #1 at a convention in Miami. And I got to interview him two years before he passed. And he was always so open and straight with people. There was no sarcasm. I mean, he was funny. But everybody's story was important. He gave everybody a great amount of respect and openness. That was really, really, really something special. I realized that when you would talk to him that's what you would get. He was a cool guy. I wish I could have gone to his house and had Roz's tuna fish sandwich. Right? Don't we all?

Brad: In closing, this is why you got to have Sky Masters. One, it's Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, plus Dick Ayers, and a bunch of other people who inked them. Right?

Tom Kraft: And Jack Kirby himself.

Rand Hoppe: Jack and Dick Ayers. Yeah.

Brad: Kirby color, like color designed by Kirby. You don't see that too often.

Rand Hoppe: No, you don't.

Brad: Sunday strips. They have their own feel. They have their own story. It's not like the weeklies. Right?

Tom Kraft: Correct.

Brad: And what else am I missing? Oh, it's a bridge to Challengers of the Unknown and Fantastic Four.

Rand Hoppe: Yeah.

Tom Kraft: And it's a great reproduction. All the color has been remastered by Ferran based on the color guides that Jack Kirby colored and chose the colors for.

Rand Hoppe: There's also a lot of really cool science facts that were part of the strip along the bottom of the Sundays. There would be a scrapbook, Sky Masters scrapbook, and they pulled together all this stuff from NASA or the pre-NASA and science magazines and stuff like that. You get a real look into, I don't know, post-Sputnik space race stuff. It's Americana and '57 Chevys and Elvis Presley songs. It's a whole real time capsule, and it's beautiful.

Tom Kraft: Our culture, really. Our history.


Jump to Zoop and scroll through their Sky Masters of the Space Force campaign.


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