Monday, February 14, 2011

Jack Kirby and the Ancient Astronauts

Kelvin Green, in his comment to my previous post, mentioned Jack Kirby and the ubiquity of ancient astronauts themes in his work, particularly in the 1970s. This reminded me of an editorial from the first issue of The Eternals, published in 1976, in which Kirby openly philosophizes on the topic. Entitled "Will the Gods Return Someday?", it's pretty good evidence that Kirby was a believer in some kind of Von Däniken-esque worldview, which should come as no surprise to anyone who read his comics.

Anyway, here's what Kirby had to say in his editorial:
If they truly exist, I believe they will. Of course, I speak of gods in the historical sense, the kinds of beings who stop ashore from places unknown and impress us with their very images, their manner of communication, and, above all, their display of transcendent power.

The Aztecs, who outnumbered the forces of Cortez by astronomical odds, were completely cowed by the sight of the Spaniard's horse and the effects of his cannon. Were they overcome by their own fear of the supernatural- or were they awed by what they viewed as the fulfillment of their own prophecy- the return of Quetzalcoatl and his band of super-beings, whose memory survived antiquity?

In my own recollection of the early jungle pictures, there was nothing more stupefying to the chattering natives of remote areas, than the sudden appearance of the movie's hero, whose "big white bird" had crash-landed in the center of the village.

Sure, they made him a god, And, if it had really happened, those natives would still be weaving tales about him today.

However, my point is, how often has this kind of thing happened in our past? How many of these so-called gods have stumbled upon this boondock planet called Earth? How many of them have inspired the potent myths which not only laid the groundwork for man's many religions, professions, and sciences, but have left man with a massive mystery on his hands- one that just won't go away...

With the daily accumulation of new artifacts all over the globe, and the simultaneous input of UFO "flapology" on a worldwide scale, humankind is straining its "group memory" to dredge up a proper picture of the ancient past, in order to deal with the provocative incidents of contemporary issue.

The compelling quality inherent in this type of theme has led me to project its mystifying questions into comic magazine storytelling. It's natural for myself and for the comics fan who dearly loves the world that lies between fantasy and fact. We are, in a word, "sympatico".

Still, despite the fact that I've contrived my own version of those momentous confrontations of prehistory, I take them from the de facto questions of today.

What did happen in those remote days of man's early struggle for civilized status? What is the true meaning of the myths which shared a global similarity among diverse peoples? Did beings of an extraterrestrial nature touch down among us and influence our lives to this present day? And then, the all-important question of the lot- are these beings in some cosmic orbit which will lead them back to us someday?

The excitement generated by this last question is undeniable. It leads directly to ourselves, and to how we will react to their arrival. The grab bag of possibilities is a limitless spectrum of spine-tingling visions. They inspire everything from elation to paranoia.

At any rate, we can do nothing but sense the air of this century and look aloft, or listen for sounds not made on this world- or read THE ETERNALS for the vicarious thrill of anticipating, in story and pictures, the astounding experience of coming to grips with the kinds of creatures we imagine the gods to be. Hey, if you're reading this, you're doing it!


  1. Grant Morrison is often compared to Kirby in terms of his talent for wild invention -- his Vimanarama is a wonderful Kirbyesque take on Islamic mythology -- and Morrison has also in the past espoused beliefs that some might call "out there". I wonder if there's a connection between such a credulous viewpoint and the ability to be so wildly inventive?

  2. A friend of mine wrote an article about this very thing for the Jack Kirby Collector!

    We've had a couple of conversations about this aspect of Kirby, and I believe there's probably evidence elsewhere of this particular interest of Kirby's.

  3. I'm not sure if that quote (and Kirby's own ubiquitous use of the theme) shows him to be a true believer himself, or merely someone who recognized the dramatic potential inherent in the idea, though. I think it's a fascinating idea that I've riffed off of many times myself in gaming milieaux... but I don't believe it for a second.

  4. Yeah, Kirby made extensive use of those ideas of aliens interacting with earth, even before his Eternals series.

    While working for DC he had the whole New Gods/Fourth World series (sharing much in common with the Eternals for Marvel) or his earlier (1965ish) creation of the Inhumans for Marvel, which again saw an alien race (the Kree) coming down and messing with early Homo sapiens, creating superhumans.

    Whether he truly believed it or not, I don't know for sure, but it's a well he certainly drew from again and again. And why not? It certainly works...maybe there is something in our collective unconscious after all!

  5. As a huge Kirby fan I think anyone wanting to spark creativity in their campaign could do worse than get a collected volume (easily found) of the Fourth World or the Eternals.

    It's odd how much of a touchstone Kirby has become for me in gaming, especially how "comic book sci-fi" (which Eternals certainly fits) has really infected what I want in a space opera game.

  6. Jason Colavito, in The cult of alien gods: H.P. Lovecraft and extraterrestrial pop culture, rather convincingly traces von Daniken and company even further back, to the writings of HPL in which the "gods" were actually alien creatures whose abilities were misunderstood by primitive humans.

  7. The Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting from Judges Guild had a whole ancient astronaut aspect to it. That wasn't always an element that I made much use of so I can't remember the whole details, but it was certainly there.

    Ken said
    "Jason Colavito, in The cult of alien gods: H.P. Lovecraft and extraterrestrial pop culture, rather convincingly traces von Daniken and company even further back, to the writings of HPL in which the "gods" were actually alien creatures whose abilities were misunderstood by primitive humans. "

    Maybe they missed a trick on that title - Chariots of the Yogs might have been more striking.

  8. Give Kirby a hint of something and he can create entire sweeping epics of goodness. He read Chariot of the Gods and from that and his own ideas he created the Eternals. Guy was a fountain of good ideas.

  9. Today comic writers take just a hint of Kirby's mind blowing weirdness - an idea Jack devoted one single issue story to - and spin it out into a year long exercise in decompressed storytelling.

    Modern comics (and Hollywood) has been dining out on JK's imagination for a couple decades now.

  10. It's pretty easy to see colonialism here, right? Kirby mentions Cortez and the Great White Aviator, in between there's Kipling's Man Who Would Be King, and stories of alien encounter tend either to the explicitly colonial paranoia dream of War of the Worlds or Cinderella stories of uplift, where humanity as a whole is the grey man's burden.

    In Cthulhuvian mode I like to think of my aliens as fundamentally unhealthy for humans - subtly radioactive - prone to destroy whatever they touch, so that regardless of their intentions (or even of whether they like to think they're doing the right thing) they cannot do long-term good for the people they get too close to. That's why they work through wild-eyed cult leaders and televangelists, it's a method for limiting the inevitable damage.

    Until now, though, I hadn't thought of them setting up anything equivalent to the World Bank. Maybe I should read Greg Costikyan's First Contract.

  11. ...also, in Victorian folkloric mode, I feel the same way about elves/fair folk: what they want is basically not the same as what humans want, and the better they get at playing along with humans, the more trouble the humans are in. Which might be an interesting take on the pyramid-building, giant-statue-raising ancient astronauts.

    BTW, even Tintin had an ancient astronaut episode: Flight 714, which for financial/publishing reasons got itsalien encounter cut out and therefore offers a clumsy but intriguing near miss story.

  12. There's potential here to have an alien civilisation arrive in a game world that has already has it's gods. The aliens proclaim themselves to be the real gods and the conflict begins...