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.
And now, on with the show!
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"I met Jack Kirby when I was 14 years old. He and Stan Lee appeared at the Mile High Comics shop in Colorado Springs where I was living at the time. They were in town to promote the Silver Surfer Hardcover they had done together. It was an expensive book for a kid like me, and back then there weren't many hardcover original graphic novels - if any - so it was an odd bird too. I waited in line for quite a while. Stan was ebullient from a distance. Kirby was intimidating. I didn't know what to expect. When I got to the front of the line, I finally got my answer. While the meeting was brief, Jack was incredibly personable. A character, to be sure, but very genuine and real. At the time I got the Surfer book because I wanted to get something signed by the two men. But the meeting spurred my interest and I started buying Kirby's other books of the period - Black Panther, Machine Man, Captain Victory. I kept telling myself I didn't like the art or the stories. But I'll be damned if I didn't keep buying them for some reason. Years later, my much-older self still dwells on those very same comics. Though not his strongest works by any stretch, Kirby was still masterful enough to talk past my youthful ignorance and appeal to my later-to-develop sense of taste."
-Steven T. Seagle, co-creator of BEN 10 and Genius
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"There's nothing I can say about Kirby and comics that The King himself didn't say better in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134, "The Mountain of Judgement". In this issue – which begins with the word "BEWARE," as if Kirby knew he was throwing dynamite at you – Jimmy Olsen is leading a futuristic biker gang toward certain death, a fate they all embrace with gusto. It's a Kirby comic, so everything happens with gusto.
What's interesting to me is that Kirby, who himself wasn't exactly a new jack at this point in his career, paints Superman as the story's antagonist. He warns Jimmy not to go, even tries to sabotage the kid, because his old conservative ass just doesn't see the appeal of diving head first into the unknown. But Kirby does. And he wants us to come along.
Jack Kirby spends this entire issue (and I guess his whole career, really) like Jimmy Olsen, speeding down The Zoomway, where angels fear to tread and devils split for cooler parts. Neither man nor mountain is going to keep him from… well, who knows, but that's not the point. The important thing is that it's somewhere you've never been before."
-Kenny Keil, creator of My Longbox Weighs A Ton, co-creator of Rhyme Travelers, contributor to Mad Magazine
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"What I celebrate about Jack Kirby, more than any other skill he possessed (and he had many), was his unbridled imagination. To him, it seemed like there wasn't anything that wasn't worth at least trying to get down on paper. He didn't seem to really talk about his work, or brag about it; he just strapped himself into that Mobius-chair of a drawing table and made the impossible even more so. Creating art is often a negotiation between skill and discipline and trusting one's imagination; Kirby not only walked that line, but sometimes (and wholeheartedly) dived right off it -- in his jungle action, composition, and very underappreciated writing. On his birthday, we should remember that Kirby's humble beginnings, rich family life, jaw-dropping work, and enduring legacy supersedes any imagined riches we could ever possibly hope for him."
-Brad Ricca, author of Super Boys
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"It doesn’t matter what yardstick you use, Jack Kirby was the best. Whether you’re talking about the quality of the work, or the scope, or the inventiveness, or the sheer quantity, and on and on, no one before or since has ever come close to doing what Kirby did, and I can’t imagine they ever will. Many other writers and artist have left their mark on American comics in general and the superhero genre in particular over the years, but no other single creator had the kind of wide-reaching and long-lasting impact that Kirby had and continues to have.
Here’s this for a thought experiment: Try to imagine what superhero comics would have been like without any of the characters that Kirby created or cocreated over the long decades of his career. To say that a history without Kirby would be a poorer one is putting it mildly. Siegel and Shuster might have been the first to introduce the superhero genre with the creation of Superman, but it was Kirby who did more than any other creator to explore the genre’s full potential. That’s why he was the King.
A recommendation to read and revisit Jack Kirby’s comics is always in order, and that’s a fine way to observe his birthday. (I’ll probably be reading his 2001 series myself, which is my personal favorite.) But if you really want to honor the King’s memory, go and create something new yourself. That’s what Kirby would have done."
-Chris Roberson, co-creator of iZombie, Edison Rex, and The Mysterious Strangers, co-founder of Monkeybrain Comics
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"I had the pleasure of meeting the man once in my very younger days! I was so nervous but I bucked the fear and got my courage together and introduced myself. The man was cordial and humble. I remember thinking that he's never going to remember me but the short exchange left me with a lifetime memory. I remember seeing his works and fawning over them as a kid. His style was very different and as a kid I could always pick out his from many of the other artists. Over the years I've met other artists, most nice, others not, but meeting Kirby in the way that I did, purely by chance as I was wandering around the room and he was standing off in a corner, probably not wanting to be noticed, but taking the time to talk with me for a few minutes meant the world to me. He was truly the king of the comics world but also a very kind gentleman."
-Franco, co-creator of Aw Yeah Comics, Superman Family Adventures, and Itty Bitty Hellboy
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"The first time I saw Jack Kirby's art, I hated it, plain and simple. I reluctantly accepted a copy of Kamandi #12 in a big comic book trade with my best friend, who only threw it in because he didn't want it either. "This guy can't draw; the fingers are squared-off, and the knees look like they're covered with athletic kneepads," we both felt.
Then, after I'd pored over all the other comics I'd gotten in the deal, I was bored and left with only that copy of Kamandi #12, with a giant grasshopper leaping off the cover straight at me. It was a pretty mesmerizing image, despite what I felt was odd anatomy on the blond kid who was being dragged along for the ride.
15 minutes later, you could count me as yet another blond kid who had been dragged along a non-stop ride through Kirby's imagination. It's a ride that's still going on to this day, 20 years after Jack died, as I start my third decade publishing The Jack Kirby Collector magazine.
There are other Kirby comics I love more than Kamandi, but that issue was the turning point for me, where I realized, "Wow, this guy is amazing." He never let a little thing like accurate anatomy get in his way, and we're all the richer for it."
-John Morrow, editor of The Jack Kirby Collector, founder of TwoMorrows Publishing
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"Jack Kirby's imagination was boundless. It would not surprise me that should mankind ever reach the outer edges of the universe that, in its lower right corner, we would find his creator's signature. The work he did back in the 40s, 50s 60s and 70s was revolutionary then and has yet to be duplicated let alone exceeded. He was and remains the best."
-Marv Wolfman, writer/creator of Blade, Black Cat, Bullseye, Nova, New Teen Titans, Deathstroke, Crisis on Infinite Earth, and countless other comics and characters
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"I didn't appreciate Jack Kirby, in fact I hated his work as a teenager. By the time I discovered Kirby, he was just 'that old guy they stuck on Super Powers'. I had no idea what he meant to comics, or art until I was much, much older. it wasn't until I got a chance to look at some of Kirby's original pencils in a copy of the Jack Kirby Collector that the pure power of his work hit. I went back and bought copies of the Fighting American hardcover, and the Fourth World omnibus later.
Most people don't realize that the "Kirby" people new from either his Marvel work or the New Gods at DC Comics was already a veteran, 20 plus years into his career. He had reduced his work to a language that we, the artists who have come up in his wake, still imitate to this day. Even if we don't realize it. He also created my all time favorite villain in Darkseid, lord of Apokalips.
Kirby was the King, not an easily anointed title, but one earned by blood, sweat and innovation."
-Jamal Igle, creator of Molly Danger, artist of Supergirl, Firestorm, and KISS
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"I met Jack Kirby in person only once. I shook his hand around 1993, at San Diego Comic-Con at the height of the original 'Image comics' craze. Kirby was standing at a booth, featuring prints of his art. Kirby was just standing around chatting. Remarkably, there were no lines, no tables... I took the moment to stop and pay respects. He was kind, and when he heard me say I was an artist working in comics for Marvel, he patted me on the back and gave a general comment to my generation "I love the work you guys are doing." he said.
I discovered during Morrisoncon last year that both Jim Lee and I were late admirers of Kirby's work. This struck me, as I see Jim as something of a modern day Kirby now, as his style and work have had a profound affect on mainstream comics and I believe will define this era of modern comics for decades to come. Kirby did that as well, but like Jim, my immature observations of his work, hyper stylized anatomy and reality, shortcuts and quick lines were at odds with the more realistic art of Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Ross Andru and John Buscema that my tastes gravitated towards. It wasn't until I started understanding the depth of creative genius and sheer outpouring of innovation and design that Kirby gave the world of comics that I began to see Kirby's work through a perspective shared by Steve Rude and Alex Ross.
I recently read an article by Kirby's son Neal, about what it was like growing up with the man as a father. As a father of two boys myself, I was keen to hear his experience. To understand how humble and simply Kirby lived, working from an old wooden kitchen chair well into his senior years when surely he could have afforded better, and drawing his master works from a basement studio, as I do myself (well, not necessarily masterworks, I mean the basement studio part!) shines a light on what Kirby's entire generation gave all of us. Knowing he was a good father, a thoughtful, humble and kind man, makes his artwork and creations even more wonderful to me. I can't imagine a world without his characters, and when you tick them off, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four.. it never ceases to affect me how resonant and important the man's work has been. All from a wooden kitchen chair in a cellar in Long Island.
As Jack Kirby would have been 96 this Wednesday, I only wish I could tell him once again, shake his hand once again, and let him know that his artistic shoulder's are gigantic like Galactus' and we all stand on them somewhere, to do what my generation of comic artists do today. He is a legend and well deserving. Happy Birthday, Jack!"
-Darick Robertson, co-creator of The Boys, Transmetropolitan, HAPPY! and Ballistic
Enjoy that? We hope so, 'cause that's just one of the all-star Jack Kirby Birthday posts we have today! Check out all four celebratory posts (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.)