|A Science Fiction Fanzine||Winter 2004/5|
As an artist, I owe a tremendous debt to science fiction fandom--and seemed pre-ordained to come in contact with it. I am the prototypical, stereotypical Baby Boomer, the poster child of post-World War II America--an era that seethed with an odd mixture of newfound national confidence, a desperate desire for normalcy, and Atomic Age anxiety. I grew up in a nurturing household, with parents (and grandparents) who encouraged the artistic efforts of myself and my brother and sister. This was pretty unusual in the 1950's, when anyone who wanted to make a career as an artist was looked upon, at best, as a beatnik---or at worst, as a monstrous, twisted deviant with inclinations toward anarchy, incest, cannibalism and devil worship. But with my family's help, I persevered, and prospered. I knew, probably at the age of five or six, that some story-telling form of art would be my path; and my family knew it too.
I was an avid reader and, particularly, a television watcher, as were the vast majority of my peers. "Space Patrol," "Howdy Doody," "The Twilight Zone," Warner Brothers' cartoons, scratchy reruns of "Betty Boop" and "Popeye" (used as filler in the early days of sparse childrens' programming) -- these were my meat and drink. I was also heavily influenced by a lot of Disney animated material--though this never approached the Brothers Fleischer or Warner for sheer lunatic inventiveness. Two of my early favorite Disney products were science fiction: "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" and the "Man In Space" trilogy (especially "Mars And Beyond") directed by the legendary Ward Kimball for Disney's weekly t.v. series. I do recall that my earliest conception of a perfect way to make a living was to be a Disney animator! And I discovered science fiction and fantasy as literature at a fairly tender age: my earliest encounter was, I think, a kids' book starring a feline character named "Space Cat"; circa 1956 or so.
My artistic influences and mentors--beyond animated cartoons -- were varied. I was, and still am, a huge admirer of the brilliant comic book artist Carl Barks, creator of Uncle Scrooge McDuck: Donald Duck's cranky uncle, the world's richest duck. Barks was, in his own way, a genius--not only as a fine artist and meticulous draftsman, but as an endlessly inventive writer with a snarky sense of humor. I was also attracted to the pre-World War II school of book illustration. Artists such as Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke (disturbing illustrator of Edgar Allan Poe), Aubrey Beardsley, engraver/illustrator Fritz Eichenberg, and Sidney Sime (who provided haunting, dreamlike illustrations for the stories of Lord Dunsany) were all tremendously influential in the development of my approach to illustration. In science fiction, my artist heroes were Ed Emshwiller, Edd Cartier, Hannes Bok and Virgil Finlay. School art classes--with one or two exceptions--were not much use, until I got to college and could hunker down in a more professional, directed environment. I graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a Master's Degree in illustration in 1973.
Fanzines, of course, have been around in some form since 1930 or so. When I entered the field--in the late 60's--new, more sophisticated reproduction methods were becoming increasingly available to fanzine editors. The mimeograph, the hectograph and other such Jurassic Era fanzine production techniques were joined by affordable offset lithography, which allowed for better fan art reproduction--and less wear and tear on the fan artist. Many is the mimeograph stencil I tore with my little stylus, just as I was putting the finishing touches on some deathless masterpiece! But with the offset printing process, an artist could be pretty sure that his or her work would be reproduced as it had been drawn.
I look back on the 60's and 70's (for obvious nostalgic reasons) as a sort of Golden Age of fan art. I shared the limelight with an amazing array of talent: George Barr; Alicia Austin; Bill Rotsler; Don Simpson-- the list goes on and on. I will be forever grateful to Bjo Trimble--a legendary fannish figure in general, and in fan art in particular, both as artist and as entrepreneur--for giving me my Big Break: my debut in her art show at F-UNCon II (Westercon 22) in 1969. Over the course of the next several years I produced fan art for many of the leading fanzines and semi-prozines of the era: Locus (then a stapled-together newszine), Shangri-L'Affaires, Trumpet, Energumen, Whispers, Granfalloon, Anubis, and dozens more. I was nominated for the Hugo Award several times, and was lucky enough to win five of them.
One of the high points for me in the early 70's--and the beginning of my professional career--was the exhibition at Cal State Long Beach of my Master's project: 26 paintings based on The Lord of the Rings. I had been passionately interested in Tolkien's magnum opus since I was first introduced to it in 1964, while still in high school. I exhibited the bulk of this collection at the 1972 Worldcon in Los Angeles, where Ian and Betty Ballantine saw them - and liked them well enough to purchase the entire collection, and publish 13 of the paintings as the Ballantine J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar for 1975.
I went to work for Hallmark Cards in 1973, recruited by that company in my last year of college, and spent 1973-1978 in Kansas City, Missouri illustrating "funny animal" cards, stationery, gift wrap and books. I learned a lot about color and composition at Hallmark, and had the ego satisfaction of seeing several of my efforts published each year. I started producing a lot of book and magazine illustration during this period, including work for Henson Associates (the Muppets), Owlswick Press, DAW Books, Arkham House, Bluejay Books, Don Grant, Whispers Press, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and Vertex. I moved to Colorado Springs in 1978 to work for another greeting card/stationery company (but really just to live in Colorado), and in 1980 I returned to Southern California and joined the Walt Disney Company as an Imagineer on the recommendation of my brother, Steve. He had been working there since 1976, helping to design EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World in Florida. His future wife, Kathy, joined Imagineering the same year that I did.
Over the course of the next 22 years I worked on a variety of Disney theme park projects, mostly at Walt Disney World in Florida: EPCOT Center, the Disney/MGM Studio park (among other things, I art directed two scenes in The Great Movie Ride: "Alien" and "Raiders Of The Lost Ark"), The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Muppets 3-D, Pleasure Island, The Main Street Athletic Club (themed retail), a retro re-design for the Walt Disney World Tomorrowland, the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, and a lot more.
In 1980, George Beahm's Heresy Press published Kirk's Works, an exhaustive compendium of my work to that date: fan art, professional art, and everything in between. This coincided with a gradual decline in my fan art efforts - as work for Disney intensified, my energy for outside work ebbed away to almost nothing. My freelance professional work also ceased, for the most part--the demands of theme park design just became too all-consuming.
From 1991 to 2001 I worked almost exclusively on the concept, design and installation of what is arguably the most beautiful theme park in the world: Tokyo DisneySea, a companion park to Tokyo Disneyland, with my brother Steve (senior design executive in charge of the project) and my sister-in-law Kathy. About this time, world events intervened: my wife Linda and I arrived in Honolulu en route back from Japan on the morning of 9/11/2001. The tourism and theme park industries were severely shaken by the terrible events of that day, and in late 2001, I - and my brother and sister-in-law - left the Disney Company and formed our own design business: Kirk Design Inc.
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