From Bleeding Cool reporter Mike Sangregorio:
Welcome to 2017 Comic-Con International in beautiful San Diego. This year is Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday, though he passed away in 1994, and the con seems intent on properly celebrating “The King’s” centennial. Literally one of the first panels of the show, Jack Kirby’s Consciousness, Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Barry Ira Geller, and the Real Argo had Barry Ira Geller, former film producer, and Mike Royer, comic artist and former Kirby collaborator, take fans through Lord of Light, Argo, and the Jack Kirby interconnections between them, celebrating Kirby’s endless imagination and enduring legacy.
The panel opened as a mass would with Geller greeting the crowd, a mid-size panel room about half full, and everyone replying energetically. 10-15 minutes into the talk, though, the room fills right up. We are in “The House of Jack” and everyone is interested.
Barry took us back to the beginning of the Lord of Light saga. He purchased the film rights of the Roger Zelazny novel and sought out movie makeup artist John Chambers, of Planet of the Apes fame, to help with the effects needed for such a complex project. Kirby was given the task of storyboarding not only the concepts from the novel that would be used in the movie but the entirety of Geller’s proposed Science Fiction Land amusement park, which appears to really have been Geller’s endgame in this undertaking.
This was in 1978 and the first time in his professional career that Kirby was not told to “do it this way” and he was left entirely to his own devices. With no editors or publishers to tarnish his vision, the world got a look at the unfettered version of Kirby’s imagination for the first time.
Kirby’s designs look as if they were part of a brand new comic book universe that never made it to paper. So much so that one has to wonder how any of his proposed theme park designs would have actually been made. Figures hundreds of feet tall, eye-level with only the weather, would have greeted visitors wandering in and out of the temples of Kali, Shiva, and other deities. One particular piece of proposed film set/park attraction is the Royal Chambers of Brahma, a bulbous, gestalt-form of various vaguely human features. At ground level there would have been the visitor entrance, itself a series of rotating heads, with this impossible structure rotating above it.
Geller, who referred to Kirby as the best artist of the century, was particularly taken with this design as he reminded the audience the he and Kirby, as practicing Jews, do not have the “image of a heavenly figure in their mind” then they conceptualize God and thought that this might be what Kirby was going for when he committed Brahma to paper. When asked to consider gods or God, he created an entirely new visual architecture to explain what he saw and why. An amorphous, daunting structure different to each person depending on where they are when they see it, with no side less worthwhile. This again would be something only appreciated by flying above it.
Royer remarked that he was the only person, aside from Kirby himself, to have seen these images at their original pencil stages before inking them himself. He said it had been his goal to keep as much of the original intent on the page as possible but that he could tell these were special.
Royer was not the only person who took note. Due to the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979, the CIA sought to free a team of American diplomats trapped, unknowingly to the Iranians, behind enemy lines. They did this by utilizing the script for Lord of Light that was never made, and Kirby’s designs. This was fictionalized in the film Argo, but Geller is quick to inform the audience that “about 80% of that movie was made up…it is not what happened.”
Clips from a short film, produced by the original agent in charge, Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck in the film), were shown. This is presented as a closer representation of what actually happened and includes a confirmation from Mendez that the “CIA never paid a dime for that script” and that he never had time to actually read it in its entirety. Mendez knew Chambers, who had worked with the CIA to mask their operatives using makeup, but with Lord of Light they had the exact type of fantasy to believably sell to the government of Tehran as something that could be filmed, and thus scouted, in their country.
As shown in the film the plan worked but Geller added an addendum.
Years later, quite recently in fact, he had been interviewed by the Sons of the Revolution (or some such similarly named group with roots in the Iranian Revolution) and they confirmed for him that it was the drawings by Kirby that really sold the project to the Government at the time. With the Shah having relinquished power, the representatives saw the drawings of larger-than-life gods, and especially the Terminal of the Gods image, as representing what they were feeling as a nation now that they were experiencing “the return of their national religion.”
Geller mentioned that, as has already been announced, a Lord of Light show is finally going to be produced, with one of the producers of The Walking Dead, Gale Anne Hurd, at the helm. Geller himself was passionate about the project and spoke about how he and Kirby really believed they would “save the world… and maybe I might still have the chance to do so.”
Science Fiction Land does not seem that likely of a reality, though. Geller remarked that he, and a few others, had been indicted for securities fraud because of the way the funding was accounted for during the initial phase of that particular project and “my name was on everything.”
To coincide with the show, Geller is working to have 3D models of the various characters put into production. He informed the audience that anyone who signed-up for the Lord of Light newsletter through firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a free print of one of the characters.
Royer closed out the panel by proposing that the thus far unused design for the “Royal Chambers of Brahma” be used for the next building to host the convention.