Nineteen years ago today, Jacob Kurtzberg, better known as Jack “King” Kirby passed away. Since he started in the comic book industry in the 1930s, Kirby has left an indelible mark on the medium, influencing generations of artists and writers and inspiring readers with his imaginative worlds both cosmic and Earth-bound.
Said Gil Kane of Kirby:
“Jack was a natural-and he was a natural early on before the wall hit him. I thought that in the early ’40s, he was just about the best guy around. He had a narrative style that was way beyond Lou Fine or any of these guys. On top of that, he really knew enough about drawing and everything so that there was simply no upgrading him. He was just excellent.” (Source: TwoMorrows Publishing)
Kirby was not only the progenitor of the Marvel look that would define the Silver Age, but he was a creative tour de force, developing some of Marvel and DC’s best characters. Such as…
Kirby was on the ground floor of Cap’s creation along with his frequent collaborator Joe Simon. When the two started working for Timely Comics (which would later become Marvel), they produced the Sentinel of Liberty in 1941. The character was so successful that Kirby was offered a position as Timely’s art director, though he and Simon would later leave for National Comics (which would eventually become DC Comics) after they felt their deal with publisher Martin Goodman wasn’t being honored.
The book that started Kirby’s influence over the Silver Age, the first family of Marvel defined Kirby’s signature style and showcased his ability to go beyond the usual boundaries of storytelling by reinventing the cosmos as he saw fit. Through the Fantastic Four, and Kirby, we would also get characters like The Silver Surfer, Galactus, Doctor Doom, and Uatu the Watcher. One of the more memorable stories involved the Fantastic Four actually meeting their creator, which firmly cemented Kirby’s status as the true creative force behind the Marvel Universe. His status at Marvel coupled with his frequent collaborations with Stan Lee put him at the creative ground floor of other Marvel characters like Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, the original X-Men, and Black Panther – all of whom were penciled by Kirby with a few co-plotted by the artist when Lee couldn’t due to scheduling conflicts and handed the projects off to other creators.
After another falling out with Marvel over breaches of contract and some dirty dealings concerning the lack of credit given to Kirby for character’s he’d created or co-created, the “King” of comics moved on to DC in the early 70’s where he produced a number of titles linked together under the moniker of “The Fourth World.” First introduced through Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Kirby’s cosmic soap opera began with the villain Darkseid and later expanded to include the planets of Apokalips and New Genesis. These warring planets were inhabited by heroes like Orion, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, and the Forever People as well as the many minions of Darkseid like Granny Goodness, Desaad, Sleeze, Glorious Godfrey, Kalibak, and the Female Furies.
His work at DC also included O.M.A.C., Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, and Etrigan the Demon!
Outside of the comic book industry, Kirby was involved in several animation projects like Thundarr the Barbarian and illustrated an adaptation of Disney’s The Black Hole. Most recently, his involvement in “The Canadian Caper” during the Iranian Hostage Crisis was referenced in the movie Argo (2012) where Kirby is portrayed in a quick cameo by Michael Parks, though his storyboards are featured throughout the movie.
Jack Kirby’s style and influence as a creator and artist has followed him from his beginnings as a freelance artist and well into the 21st Century. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Cavalier and Clay is in part a tribute to Kirby and other creators of the Golden Age of Comics with Joseph Cavalier standing in as the Kirby surrogate. Jazz musician Greg Bendian did an entire album, Requiem for Jack Kirby, as a tribute to the man with each session based on one of his creations. Superman: The Animated Series modeled Detective Dan Turpin on Kirby, going so far as to dedicate the episode “Apokalips…Now! Part 2” in his memory. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mirage comics even paid tribute to Kirby in Donatello’s solo book, which was later turned into a tribute episode of the 2003 animated series entitled “The King” where Donatello meets an artist named Kirby. There’s even a Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center website where you can learn more about Kirby and his continued influence in the world of comic books and art.
And if you’d like to see physical proof of Kirby’s influence in the here and now:
That’s my arm, by the way. Just in case it wasn’t obvious.
So, there you have it, Kirby is forever imprinted on multiple generations of comic book creators and readers. Artist, writer, decorated veteran, Jack Kirby may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. And as one of my favorite comedians Greg Proops says in tribute to those that have shuffled the mortal coil: Jack Kirby is a swirling vortex of cosmic splendor. He shines brightly in a sea of stars so that we might look upon him and wonder.