Jack Kirby is probably the single most important figure in the development of American comic books. His career spanned seven decades, and though he is best-known for his work on super-hero titles, he defied simple categorization and worked in nearly every style of comic: horror, science fiction, romance, comedy, fantasy, funny animal, crime, war, western, and probably some others that I'm forgetting.
He didn't just define a single genre: he constantly defined (and re-defined) the entire comics medium, right up until his death in 1994. So, in honor of his 96th birthday on August 28th, we here at MTV Geek have assembled A Week Of Jack Kirby, a series of posts celebrating the life, work and inspiration of the man that Stan Lee dubbed simply 'The King'.
Last year, Jack's granddaughter Jillian Kirby founded 'Kirby4Heroes', a venture devoted to raising funds for the Hero Initiative (a charity that helps comic creators in need). She reached out to directly comic retailers and individuals to raise money and awareness, and also got select comic shops to pledge a portion of their profits to the Hero Initiative on August 28th, her grandfather's birthday. This year, she's increased the scope of the campaign, and is working with her father, Neal Kirby, on an fundraising event entitled 'Wake Up And Draw', wherein a hundred comic artists across the country will create original art inspired by Jack Kirby, and the pieces will be auctioned off to benefit the Hero Initiative. We got the chance to speak to Ms. Kirby about the ideas behind these projects, and her goals for this year and beyond.
MTV Geek: What inspired you to start this campaign, and how did you get connected with the Hero Initiative?
Jillian Kirby: My grandfather passed away the year before I was born, so I never got to meet him, but he was still a constant presence growing up. And last year, I came up with the Kirby4Heroes campaign as a way to celebrate him and get to know him better. I knew I wanted to do something charity-related, and help support a charity that my grandfather would have championed, and the Hero Initiative was the one that seemed best – it's the only non-profit that helps provide for the people who have spent their lives working in the comic industry and now need medical aid or financial assistance. I thought that creating a campaign with goals of raising money to benefit the Hero Initiative would be a good way to honor the legacy of grandfather Jack, by giving back to the comic book community.
Geek: So, you knew stories of him as your grandfather, but how did you become aware of the impact Jack Kirby had, not just on comics, but on so much of popular culture?
Kirby: My dad told me a lot of family stores and anecdotes as I was growing up, and I learned a lot about my grandfather that way…I learned even more in third grade, when I did an assignment to talk about 'who is your hero', and I chose my grandfather as my subject. I did a lot of research, and I became more aware of the impact that my grandfather had on the comic industry and culture as a whole. His iconic characters made the leap from comic books to blockbuster movies and mass merchandising...his original artwork now sells at auction for five and six figures. And it really inspired me, learning about all his art, the characters he created, and all the wonderful stories that he came up with!
Geek: And how did you go about organizing this campaign? Who did you approach first, and how did you go about making it happen?
Kirby: When I was first starting to put the Kirby4Heroes campaign together last year, I contacted the Hero Initiative, then looked up some comic shops around where I live, in California, and decided I'd start by reaching out to them. The first retailer I pitched the idea to was Alakazam in Irvine, CA. It was my first time doing anything like this, and I was really nervous about approaching them with my idea (which was to donate a percentage of their profits on my grandfather's 95th birthday, as well as to set up collection jars, post in-store flyers I made, and publicize my campaign on their social media sites), but they were excited immediately – they gave me so much support, and that really gave me the confidence that I needed to go out, contact other retailers, and talk to other people about it. The owners were incredibly helpful and encouraging, and really helped make this project a reality.
Geek: And how has the project changed and expanded, as it's grown and built on the success of last year?
Kirby: Last year, I also wanted to reach out to individuals for contributions across the nation. Making a YouTube video seemed a good way to approach this. When completed, I contacted Geoff Boucher, then working for the LA Times, to see if he would publicize my Kirby4Heroes Campaign. He agreed and referred me to Seth Laderman, head of production at the Nerdist Channel, who released it on YouTube through Nerdist. Numerous comic book websites, as well as the Jack Kirby Museum, generously publicized my campaign. This year, because my campaign is now known in the industry, I've been able to expand nationwide, with many retailers contacting me with their own ideas, such as auctions and special events, to raise money for the Hero Initiative on my grandfather's 96th birthday on August 28th. Additionally, to expand my reach, I've developed the Kirby4Heroes Campaign Facebook page, website and a new YouTube video. The LA Times and Nerdist Channel are again enthusiastically supporting my campaign. There's so many wonderful people working together for a really great cause!
Geek: So, the first year, you raised over $6000 for the Hero Initiative on your grandfather's birthday. This year, you've set a goal of $10,000. What's next after that?
Kirby: Well, looking farther ahead, I have a few long-term goals for this project. I want to continue to contribute to the creators who live without insurance or security, and I've set my sights on raising at least $50,000 for the Hero Initiative before my grandfather's 100th birthday in 2017. One major dream I have is to get an exhibition of my grandfather's work in a major art museum in New York City, and increase recognition of his work in the art world in general. Additionally, being a huge fan of the American Masters TV series on PBS, I would love to see a documentary about my grandfather's life on that show. And ultimately, I hope my campaign continues to help raise awareness about the unfortunate need currently present among so many creators. My grandfather was a very generous and giving person, and I'm excited to carry on that tradition and honor his memory by creating this campaign, and doing my part to help those in need in the comic book industry!
More information about the Kirby4Heroes campaign can be found on their facebook page.