"Am I a comic book weirdo?" Jon B. Cooke yells.
"No," the owner of the Time Capsule — Cranston's beehive for comic-book lovers — calls from behind the counter.
Cooke is unconvinced. We're in a store that sells vintage copies of X-Men, Bionic Woman lunchboxes, and Star Trek action figures and he's telling a life story in which "words and pictures on paper" play a central role.
When his "proto-hippie" mother a brought him to live in Europe as a kid, he explains, American comics like Batman and Mister Miracle were his education. Then, when he came back to the US and settled in South Kingston as a preteen, he and his brothers started their first fanzine, The Omega Comic Magazine Review (Cooke still lives in West Kingston). The marriage of magazines and comics stuck. Decades later, Cooke would win an armful Eisner awards — the Oscars of the comics world — for his magazine Comic Book Artist, which ran from 1998 to 2005.
As he talks, Cooke dances between a boyish giddiness for characters like Superman and Captain America and grown-up rage over how badly those characters' creators have been screwed. Comic book artists are treated worse than almost anyone except sex workers, he says. And his new magazine, Comic Book Creator, is aimed to help stop that.
"[T]his is all about dignity," Cooke writes in the debut issue's introduction. The following articles fulfill that promise. There are conversations with Spawn creator Todd McFarlane and prolific DC and Marvel contributor Alex Ross about their journeys through the business. There is a guest column profiling the New York-based copyright defenders organization, the Artists Rights Society.
And then there is Cooke's 8000-word cover story, not-so-subtly titled, "If Kirby Is King, Why Haven't Jack's Heirs Made One Measly, Thin Dime Out of the Billions of Dollars Generated by His Creations' Hollywood Motion Pictures?" The article profiles "likely the most prolific comic book artist of all time, [who] single- handedly established the visual vernacular of the super-hero . . . the most important creator the field of mainstream comic books has ever produced. Period."
As we talk, Cooke bounces around the Time Capsule to prove his point.
"See that Fighting American right there?" Cooke says, pointing to rows of plastic-sleeved comics displayed on shelves behind the counter. He ticks off other titles on display: The Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men. Jack Kirby had a hand in all of them, he says.
He walks to a wall rack and pulls down a comic. "Unquestionably this is a Jack Kirby co-creation: Thor, the mighty Thor," he says, opening the book to the credits page. "And as we can see right there, there is no co creator credit."
"The parasites in their shiny suits control much of Jack Kirby's life's work now," Cooke writes in the story's explosive finale. "The Marvel/Disney empire is raking in billions of dollars from the fruit of his imagination and they aren't leaving scraps for his children and grandchildren."
Cooke's passion for Kirby extends beyond a simple admiration for the fruits of the man's intergalactic imagination. He describes how the man — born Jacob Kurtzberg — worked his way out of the ghettos of Manhattan's Lower East Side, fought Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge, and then made time for fans and young artists after he made it big. He was a "father figure," whom Cooke met twice at conventions in the 1970s.