Step inside the Fourth World as we relive that one magical day when…
FRANK ZAPPA met JACK KIRBY !
by Jeff Newelt • Illustration by Rick Veitch • Photos by Michael James Zuccaro
I’ve always been a sucker for the big teamup: Superman / Shazam. Hulk / Thing. chocolate & peanut butter. So when I came across a photo of Jack Kirby and Frank Zappa embracing finally, my synapses started firing like FBI at Waco.
Were they friends? Did they hang? Play action figures together? WTF! I had to know.
For those not so in-the-know as us ubergeekanoids, Jack Kirby was the visionary artist who created The Fantastic Four, X-Men, Hulk, Thor, Silver Surfer, Captain America…the Marvel universe sprang forth from his (and writer Stan Lee’s) head. In the ’70s, Jack went solo, rocking out idiosyncratic cosmic characters – the New Gods, Omac, Forever People, Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Kamandi, Demon, all nutty, jazzy, psychedelically mythic stuff.
Frank Zappa was a musical iconoclast and genius composer/producer/guitar player. He wove together humor, avant-garde classical guitar-rock, doo-wop, dada, jazz-fusion, and political satire, hired the badass-est musicians, and rolled with world leaders like Czech playwright/philosopher Vaclav Havel. His songs are like audio comic books, hypervisual with colorful characters and scenarios like “Camarillo Brillo,” which includes the lines “She had a snake for a pet / and an amulet / and she was breeding a dwarf / But she wasn’t done yet / She had gray-green skin / A doll with a pin / I told her she was awright / But I couldn’t come in.” Sounds just like a character out of Kirby’s Demon.
Jack and Frank, both universe builders, one music, the other, comics. But what was the connection?
Fast-forward to present day. I’m at a conference in New Mexico teaching social media to female entrepreneurs, and one lady says, “Yer not one of those comics people, are you? My husband’s one, Steve Sherman.” D’OH! Steve Sherman was one of Kirby’s fabled assistants! I reached out to Steve and turns out Jack and Frank Zappa were not only pals, but also essentially neighbors. How was this friendship kept secret so long?
A mere week later, I wind up having drinks with fellow Flusher Paul Pope and none other than Frank’s youngest son, Ahmet Zappa! We learned all about Kingdom Comics, the new graphic novel line Ahmet is helming for Disney.
Contextual rewind: Not just a comics impresario, Ahmet’s been rocking in different media since he was a wee young lad. He was lead singer/songwriter in Z, a band he formed with his brother Dweezil in the early ’90s, an actor on Roseanne and Growing Pains and in films such as Pump up the Volume and Jack Frost, and most recently hosted VH1’s But Can They Sing?
So I had to show Ahmet my Blackberry screensaver, the image I had found of his dad and Jack together, and Ahmet goes, “Whoa, I never saw that! That’s in my living room… Jack would come over and smoke cigars and Frank would smoke cigarettes, and they’d talk and talk.”
One of the things Frank and Jack had in common: the prodigious amount of cosmic goodness that extruded from their respective noggins was not the result of drugs; they both enjoyed tobaccy but only the unwacky. We had other stuff to discuss that evening, so I made Ahmet promise to reconnect ASAP to spill the magic beans on this egregiously undocumented duo. And he kept his promise.