Jack Kirby’s original conceptual art for the “Argo” ruse goes on display next month

By and on July 17, 2015

If you’ve seen the Academy Award-winning movie Argo, you may recall that, in 1979, the CIA’s Tony Mendez used a defunct science fiction/fantasy film project called The Lord Of Light as part of an elaborate ruse in order to convince Iranian officials to let his team of six CIA operatives into their country — posing as as advance film location scouting crew — in order to rescue American embassy workers who were hiding  in the homes of Canadian diplomats during the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Kirby’s conceptual drawings for that original film that were used in that deception have not been seen for decades, but they will soon be on display in the August issue of Heavy Metal Magazine.

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As you can hear in this five-minute extract from Errol Morris’ Little Grey Men (2000), Kirby’s drawings are part of modern American history now, and as Brian Chidester — we linked to his piece on Brooklyn artist Ati Maier herewrites:

“As those who saw the recent Oscar-winning film Argo might recall, plans quickly fell apart and the production was abandoned. Until, that is, the U.S. Embassy in Iran was stormed by revolutionaries in 1979 and six American ambassadors narrowly escaped to the home of a nearby Canadian ambassador. The CIA then came up with a plan to use Kirby’s artwork and its concept for the Lord of Light film (retitled Argo) to allow agents, disguised as movie makers, to exfiltrate the hostages safely back to the U.S. (It worked.) Argo is a story like none other in the history of art and film, and for the first time, this August, the public will get to see what Iranian leaders saw (and were duped by) back in 1979.”

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Mendez had decided to use the unmade screenplay and production illustrations by Jack Kirby for a movie that had been filed away, a project begun in 1977 by producer Barry Ira Geller, based on the Hugo Award-winning sci-fi author Roger Zelazny ‘s novel of the same name (and he just happened to be George R.R. Martin’s close friend, who later nicknamed a deity called R’hllor in his Game of Thrones novels “The Lord of Light”… so there’s that).

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If you’ll recall, Kirby’s and Geller’s conceptual art pieces — which had been filed away with the dead Lord of Light project — was revived by Mendez, who had no intention, of course, of actually making the film or finding locations in Iran for them to shoot in, but they were all packaged and duplicated and used to create a viable-sounding sci-fi project, and, if you’ve seen the movie, well, as Chidester writes above, you know “it worked.”

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The actual idea for the film comes from this article“How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran” — written by Joshuah Bearman, and published in the April 24, 2007 issue of Wired Magazine, the rights for which were purchased by George Clooney’s production company. It’s worth your time if you wanna know the back story.

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What’s really interesting about this story (and there are a LOT of articles online if you choose to seek them out) is that the original idea for the Lord of Light movie in 1979 was to have its hopeful box office success act as a springboard and further focus attention on Geller’s much grander idea, to create The Science Fiction Theme Park, and we can all expect to see a documentary about that topic soon as Geller’s Kickstarter campaign to fund the making of the documentary, by director Judd Ehrlich, was funded. Watch the video at the link.

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The curator for the The Kirby Museum, which houses a lot of Jack Kirby’s drawings — he illustrated Marvel heroes such as The Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor, SHIELD, etc., and his DC Comics 4th World/New Gods, which is owned by Time/Warner, the parent corporation of Warner Brothers, the producers of Argo — says that the museum was initially contacted in late June 2011 by Warner Brothers’s Permissions and Clearances staff, who asked for permission to use the Lord of Light images, and they were apparently directed over to Geller for the appropriate permissions.

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In the end, the production staff created drawings of their own that were not the actual drawings Kirby had made. You can read Geller’s extensive take on that here.

Jack “The King” Kirby died on February 6th, 1994.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.