A Week Of Jack Kirby: The Comics Industry Joins MTV Geek To Celebrate ‘The King’ On His 96th Birthday [Part One]

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, 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’.

Today is Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday, and more than a quarter-century after his first published work, his spirit permeates every corner of the comic industry. He possessed a seemingly unlimited imagination, creating new characters, concepts, and genres with every stroke of his pencil. And today, a truly staggering cross-section of the comics community have joined us to offer words and pictures that give an idea of what this one man, and his work, have meant to them. In fact, there were so many people contributing, we’ve had to break things up among several posts – for the entire series, click here.

So, without further ado, let’s start the celebrations!

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“Jack Kirby defined what we do as comic artists more than any other visual storyteller. He took all of the pre existing techniques and refined them, then he created new ones. No other creator has defined what we do as storytellers in the superhero genre as much as Kirby. He only left a few stones un-turned for the rest of us to discover, but I think that was just out of kindness!”

Mike Avon Oeming, co-creator of Powers, creator of The Victories

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“I have exactly three pieces of art up in the office where I do a lot of my writing, and two of them were drawn by Jack Kirby. (No, they’re not originals, but perhaps someday.)  It seems to me that everything he did followed these two guiding principles: Make it Yours, and Make it New.  In other words, make sure that whatever you’re creating is a reflection of you, and do your best to bring something to the table that’s new and different.  It’s always a challenge to make sure my work reflects even one of those, and yet Kirby managed to do both again and again. Amazing – but then I suppose that’s why they call him the King.”

Charles Soule, creator of Strange Attractors and Letter 44, author of Swamp Thing, Thunderbolts, and Superman/Wonder Woman

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“Kirby’s titanic imagination and unfaltering, prolific professionalism are probably my biggest inspirations whenever I stop to consider what a career in comics means to me. He did what he had to to pay the bills, and he did it with panache. More strikingly, whenever he worked on a passion project, he drew it however he wanted. Exactly however he wanted, the Jack Kirby way. He had Style, the ultimate muse. As a freelancer, I think that Kirby’s devotion to his own singular vision is what marks him as one of the freest people to have ever lived.”

Ming Doyle, artist of Mara

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“Jack Kirby is the reason I do this. Hell, he’s the reason we all do this. All of us who publish, write, read, or just love comics–Jack is the reason. Which isn’t to slight anyone else who has done amazing work in comics over the decades–the comic industry was built through the labors of so many other talents, and it was given more form and substance because of the other architect of modern comics, Stan Lee, but Jack’s visuals are what made the industry explode off the page. Jack made comics feel important; he made his heroes look heroic, the villains as dastardly as can be, the fight scenes visceral and impactful. Jack made all his characters larger than life, pushing comics from being a child’s pursuit into the taste-making, global business it is today.

None of this is news to anyone who’s ever seen his work — Jack’s style is instantly recognizable, often emulated but never replicated, and it is the way we all think of comics in our heads. People who in comics argue all the time, about credit or misunderstandings or even pettier things, but the one thing everyone in comics agrees on is Jack’s stature, which is aptly reflected in his moniker, “the King.” We’re all is subjects, and we’re all forever beholden to his efforts.

I got my first exposure to Jack’s work in Origins of Marvel Comics, an early trade paperback collection of Marvel origin stories. Therefore, fittingly, Fantastic Four #1 was my first exposure to his work, and that issue remains my comic-book north star. I’ve met and worked with an amazing array of talent in my near-decade at IDW, but I never did get a chance to meet Jack. But it doesn’t matter, because I met him through his work–hundreds upon hundreds of times.

There’s a song by the band Monster Magnet from a few years back with the line “And I was thinking how the world should have cried/on the day Jack Kirby died.” And I think the larger world finally does recognize both what that loss meant but also how special the Kirby legacy really is. For me, it means I have a chance to work in the industry Jack helped build and give back to it in my own way. It means we have a living, breathing, and ever-changing comics industry (and all the movies, games and books that have grown out of it), built on the strength of one man’s pencil. Happy birthday, Jack, and thank you.”

Chris Ryall, Chief Creative Officer of IDW Publishing

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“Kirby’s Eternals was a huge inspiration to me. He was also one of the first comic book professionals I ever met, which is starting at the top, innit?”

Colleen Doran, creator of A Distant Soil

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“The word apocalypse has at least two meanings.

The more popular one means cataclysm, Armageddon, the end of the world—practically the end of everything, or at least a shakeup so big and traumatic that the world no longer feels anywhere near the same. An apocalypse is wrenching, irreversible, and profound—it changes the rules of the game forever.

The original meaning, from the Greek apokalypsis (revelation), is something else. It means the disclosure, or uncovering, of the secret meaning of the world, often by way of supernatural or otherworldly forces. An apocalypse in this sense rends the veil between us and the grand design of which we are a part—it shows how small and partial our understanding of the world is, exposing to us an overworld, a secret or cosmic world, and giving us a fore-glimpse of the destined future. It is in this sense that the Book of Revelation is the Apocalypse of St. John.

I learned to think about these things from religious teachings and from the anxiety of being a Cold War kid. I learned to be afraid. The big science fiction movies of my childhood—movies like Planet of the Apes, THX 1138, Z.P.G., Silent Running, and Soylent Green—were dystopian, scary. But to me the one teacher that made the idea of apocalypse thinkable, approachable, and story-able was Jack Kirby.

Cataclysm and revelation were Kirby’s beat. In his work the overworld and the cataclysm were either already here, revising the world from the ground up, or tantalizingly almost here, pending, menacing, forcing us out of habit and into trembling wonder.

Kamandi, The Eternals, and The New Gods—in that order, not the order they were originally published—were this boy’s own manual for the apocalypse. In these full-tilt, hell-bent SF/fantasy comics, Kirby rewrote the rules of the world in broad strokes, dosing his readers with regular shocks to the system. The thing is, these shocks had about them an air of joy despite the often-despairing premises. The comics were recklessly creative, a volatile compound of outsized passions, colorfully weird characters, and grand, absurd, towering, eye-boggling, almost comically inventive drawings—the stuff of crazy dreams. How could I not dig them?

Kirby taught me that comics could dream big.

But there was something else about his comics, too. In the midst of their frightful, apocalyptic visions—their revelations that the world is or could be very different than we think—there were humanly frail or conflicted characters doing their best. There were
people, under duress or up in arms, struggling, feeling. I think of Kamandi, the feral boy, at the grave of his companion Flower, or sharing a laugh with his tiger friend, Tuftan; or stuffy Doctor Holden, flustered by the attentions of Sersi the demigoddess, startled when she invites him to dance; or Eve Donner offering a moment’s grace to the brutish god Orion, who responds with a gust of rage. I think of Kirby’s sense of scale, both spatial and emotional, as he moves up and down the range, from Cyclopean gigantism to telling human details. Big to small: a whole broad spectrum.

How odd, and how delightful, that Kirby’s apocalypses always held on to hope, and made the terrors of the age part of his outrageous, romping expression, his fearless imaginative grandstanding, his pleasure in his art. The worlds he created could still be terrifying, but, for me, were suffused with joy.”

-Charles Hatfield, author of Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby, co-editor of The Superhero Reader, professor at CSU Northridge

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“Jack Kirby was perfecting the art of comics before I was born. However, I owe him my love for the medium thanks to his influence on a generation of creators that continue to inspire me.”

Jeremy Holt, co-creator of After Houdini and Art Monster

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“Jack Kirby remains the greatest creative force in the history of comic books. Almost every great character came from Kirby and nearly every creative person in the field was influenced by Kirby either directly or indirectly. I can’t imagine what comic books would be like without him.

It’s funny…so many people use others as a sort of goalpost. They’ll look at what others have accomplished and measure themselves against those people. That guy did THIS when he was 25 or THAT when he was 30 but Jack is seldom used in such a comparison because it would simply be too soul-crushing to compare your meagre accomplishments to his and while many artists peak in their 20s or 30s Jack was still getting better well into his 50s. I was and am in awe of everything he did and I hope to one day be a tenth of the creative force that he was. But even THAT is asking a hell of a lot.

Forever humbled.”

Erik Larsen, creator of The Savage Dragon and co-founder of Image Comics

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“Jack Kirby is just so huge a figure that’s it’s almost silly and redundant to say ’I was influenced by him,’ because everyone was. As a kid my favorite works of his were Kamandi and Devil Dinosaur (and they remain great loves), but I gradually became aware of his earlier work through reprints. Thor is probably my favorite of his Silver Age work, and to me Fantastic Four #25 and 26 – which I discovered in the Marvel’s Greatest Superhero Battles trade paperback – are the most perfect comics ever created. Maybe it was a function of discovering his work in this way, but it just sort of seemed to me like he’d always been there. Like he was The Source. One of the fundamental cosmic forces of the universe he depicted so well. I guess as a writer, what inspires me about Kirby is the way he just let his imagination run wild, and never stopped creating. But, I mean, I’m kind of at a loss as to what to say, because asking how Jack Kirby influences you is like asking how the sun influences you. Without it, none of us would be here.”

Christos Gage, author of Avengers Academy and GI Joe: Cobra


Enjoy that? We hope so, ’cause that’s just the first of these all-star Jack Kirby Birthday posts we have today! Check out the rest of them (as well as MTV Geek’s other exclusive ’Week Of Jack Kirby’ content) here!

(All words and pictures in this post are © their respective creators.)