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, here’s more Kirby love!
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“Like a lot of people, I didn’t “get” Jack Kirby artistically. I was more into Neal Adams and John Buscema. I saw Kirby as just weird.
As the years went by for me professionally, and I dissected the elements of being a comics artist, I finally figured him out. Jack was rock and roll. He was Elvis; and like Elvis, you have to consider the artistic element prior to today. Elvis was a innovator at a time that innovation was frowned upon. So was Jack. Although Jack toiled in the pre and post McCarthy days, he shined with an upstart and innovative group now known as Marvel. He brought dynamism where traditional and “safe” art was the norm. Where other companies gave us wonder and a sense of “wow”, Marvel and Kirby gave us a sense of “WHOA!”.
He gave us perspective, imagination beyond limits, foreshortening, impressive use of space, and of course, Kirby dots.
My Hourman design? Yeah…Kirby influenced.
I recently read that Frank Frazetta LOVED him. Saying that when Captain America threw a shield “he REALLY threw the shield!” If I needed more convincing, the immortal Frazetta should be enough for anyone.”
–Rags Morales, artist of Action Comics, Hawkman, Hourman, and many other titles
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–Francesco Francavilla, creator of The Black Beetle, artist of Detective Comics and Guardians Of The Galaxy
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“What Kirby means to me… stylistically, it’s difficult to say. His influence hangs so heavily over the entire medium it’s impossible to imagine comics without him. He created the modern comic vocabulary. Every penciler, inker, writer, colorist, letterer, and editor working in comics today are building on his work whether they acknowledge it or not. So it’s difficult for me to talk about his influence, it’s like trying to talk about The Beatles influence on modern pop music. Everyone is influence by them, some just hide it better and some wear it on their sleeve. So I guess Jack Kirby the cartoonist has so completely saturated my work, and his creations have so completely saturated pop culture, that what really inspires me the most about him is his devotion to his family. Thanks to Mr. Miracle and Barda, we all feel like we’ve been afforded a glimpse at he and Roz’s relationship, and those are moments in his comics that touch me the greatest. Those are the moments that always stop me in mi-read. have trouble relating to Jack Kirby, The Creative Genius of His Generation, but can really relate to Jack Kirby, guy who worked relentlessly to provide for his family and was completely devoted to his spitfire wife.”
–Lee Leslie, creator of RiGBY The Barbarian, artist of Screamland and Goggle Girl
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“Jack Kirby was one of the first artists I recognized as being different from all the others. It was so daring, so bold and expressive with such a unique sense of design and power that it pulled the reader in like few others. The more I work in comics the more I am astounded by the man’s productivity, creativity and brilliance!”
–Dan Jurgens, creator of Booster Gold, writer/artist of Superman, Teen Titans, and Justice League
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“Jack Kirby’s art was deceptively complex and charmingly simple. His impact on comics, movies, video games, science fiction and television is stronger today than ever before.”
–Scoot McMahon, artist/writer for Aw Yeah Comics, creator of Sami the Samurai Squirrel and The Super Kingz
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“Jack Kirby was the artist I identified with comics for a long time, having been exposed to his work in the Marvel UK reprints of the early to mid 70s, but I was really young, and as I started growing older, his 70s work held little appeal for me – I moved on to John Byrne, Neal Adams, and all the other big names of the time. But as I’ve grown older, I find myself coming back full circle to classic Kirby. And the sheer amount of ideas and output and energy – it’s mind boggling how so much was going on in his mind that needed to come exploding out onto the page. To say Kirby’s the biggest talent that’s ever worked in comics is almost pointless, y’know? It’s like saying grass is green or water is wet. We are all indebted to those pioneers of the 60s, and none so much as The King. Happy birthday, Mr. Kirby.”
–Andrew Hope, author, writer of Fantomex MAX
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–Dennis Culver, co-creator of Edison Rex
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“Mr. Kirby has been an amazing source of inspiration to me. He was a genre bending, time and space warping, comic mastermind. As a writer of all-ages books, I find his ability to create entire original worlds and tell stories that were unlike anything else around to be a truly spectacular. I could create comics all of my life and never have as many ideas on paper as Kirby fit into some single issues.”
–Jeremy Whitley, writer/creator of Princeless, director of publicity for Action Lab Comics
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“It was an honor to have known him, Jack Kirby remains to this day, the greatest creator in the history of the comics industry.”
–J. David Spurlock, author of ’The Alluring Art Of Margaret Brundage’, Director of the Wallace Wood Estate, founder of Vanguard Publishing
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“I grew up wanting to be Jack Kirby. His work was and continues to be the biggest inspiration on me as an artist and creative person. I knew I could never do what he did, nor could I do it how he did it, some have tried but there is only one King. Kirby inspired me to be myself, to follow my dreams and find my own voice in comics and in everything I do. Not a day goes by that his work isn’t in my life and I can never thank him or his family enough for that. Heck- I even named my son Kirby.”
–Adam ’Illus’ Wallenta, MC, illustrator of The Supervillain Handbook and The Supervillain Field Manual
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“I was 7 when I learned about President Richard Nixon and Watergate. Jack Kirby taught me about this pivotal moment in U.S. history via a post-apocalyptic adventure comic book I’d bought, used (10 cents), at Mary’s Book Exchange in Tampa, Florida. What Kirby instructed was compelling—namely, that abusive power is fleeting and scandal can reach toxic levels when amplified by savage minds.
If someone ever tells you Kirby is a superb artist but a third-rate scripter, reach for what I’m about to share with you right now.
Kirby’s auteur phase began in the early ’70s at DC Comics. He created Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, a poor comic-urchin’s Planet of the Apes. In Kamandi, though, all animals talk, not just apes. Humans are pets. For the teen title character, who sole-survived the Great Disaster in a New York City bunker, Earth A.D. (After Disaster) is a nightmare. Kamandi befriends some intelligent beasts, including Dr. Canus, a dog-scientist with the Tiger Empire, modeled after Caesar’s Pax Romana.
Published in 1974, Kamandi #15, “The Watergate Secrets,” relates an escapade in which Kamandi and Canus join a troop of tigers to search the ruins of Washington D.C. for a powerful weapon called the Watergate tapes. The tigers stop on the way at “a lone, forlorn structure” on the district’s edge. Already anxious from whispered stories, the troop is ordered to fire at anything that moves. A soldier asks: “How do you shoot ghosts who walk on wires?” Wiretaps ice the blood in a ravaged America.
They should. Kamandi sings “Yellow Submarine” in a bathtub, earning a rebuke from a tiger named Prince Tuftan. Their exchange still makes me laugh, 33 years later.
Kamandi: Relax, Tuftan! I like that song. My great-grandfather claimed it was written by beetles.
Tuftan: That’s not funny. I’m expecting lots of trouble from bugs.
An eavesdropping device picks up their conversation. From a hidden chamber in the same building, the apes are listening. Now Kirby piles on Watergate terminology to a satirical fine point. The apes claim “a break-in” and dispatch a “plumber’s squad” to the “stake-out.” They’ll bring the captives back for “the annual hearings,” which should give the apes “immunity.” Shock-pelleted, Tuftan and Canus are kidnapped, leaving a groggy Kamandi to track his friends to the capitol building.
There the prisoners are suspended from ropes and ritually indicted. The apes label them “cursed burgulars” who dared to steal the sacred tapes. Meanwhile, Kamandi and the tigers battle their way through the D.C. press gallery, where reporters once covered breaking news at the White House. It’s almost too late. A death subpoena is produced, which will summon the spirits from the “Watergate Sound-Maker,” a giant sonic cannon.
One of the apes moves the cannon’s dial to TRIAL. There are two higher settings—SENTENCE and EXECUTE. The initial phase is plenty brutal: “Shock after shock strikes the struggling captives as the noise level rises.” And then comes the best moment of dialogue I’ve ever encountered.
Tuftan: It’s getting louder! Louder! C-can it reach a dangerous pitch, Doctor?
Canus: I-I think it can kill us! The apes have learned to kill by sound!
Kamandi’s cavalry charges, wrecking the sound-machine’s horn and sending the apes reeling. D.C. is set ablaze. Triumphant, the tigers dismantle the machine and find the missing Watergate tapes. Because the apes played them at the wrong speed and at high volume, the voices were believed to be vengeful spirits. Canus slows down a tape and isolates a voice saying, “I want to make this perfectly clear…” A famous Nixon utterance.
The tape snaps. So much for a powerful weapon. “Don’t bother fixing it,” says Tuftan. “It doesn’t mean much now,” Kamandi considers.
Kirby is on record as a Nixon loather. But “The Watergate Secrets” shows a different perspective. In 1974, America was exhausted by scandal and wars. The primates had taken over D.C., compulsively abusing power as the media cranked up the volume on the country’s failures. In the end, none of it matters, except to a strange and violent cult embedded in Washington in the years to come, Kirby suggests.
I pledge to ensure my kids learn all about Watergate from the same troubling and hilarious source—Kirby’s future-shock swipe at a present that’s now the past.”
–Jarret Keene, author, critic, editor of Dead Neon and Las Vegas Noir
Enjoy that? We hope so, ’cause that’s one of the all-star Jack Kirby Birthday posts we have today! Check out the other three installments (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.)