Jack Kirby is probably one of the most important and influential comic book creators to have ever lived. He helped make funny books a little more sophisticated and thoughtful, and turned them into a Pop-Art phenomenon. He also developed some of the most unique and memorable characters around. Characters that most people have at least heard of, even if they’ve never picked up a comic book. And on top of that, his drawings and line work can be so beautiful that I sometimes get completely lost in it.
Kirby started his career as a newspaper cartoonist, and went on to draw all sorts of comics for a number of different publishers. Mysteries, romance, westerns, horror, sci-fi, etc. This is before TV, when comic books were cheap and easy to find entertainment, and a single issue might sell over a million copies each month. Jack Kirby was right there from the beginning, helping the new artform develop.
It was when Kirby met artist, writer, and editor Joe Simon that his career really took off. Together, the two of them developed one of the most popular and longest lasting characters in comics, Captain America. Before the United States had even entered World War II, Jack Kirby had Captain America fighting the good fight, and punching Hitler right in the chops. Good old Cap!
When America did finally join the war, Kirby was drafted and sent off to Germany, where he was given the extremely dangerous job of scouting out towns ahead of the troops in order to draw reconnaissance maps and pictures.
After the war Kirby met and began working with Stan Lee. Together, Kirby and Stan Lee pretty much created the foundation for Marvel Comics in the early 1960s with Thor, the Hulk, the original X-Men, Dr. Doom, the Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, the Celestials and Eternals. Captain America was bought by Marvel, revived, and became an Avenger. There are too many characters to count. Probably my all-time favorite is Galactus, who is the last survivor of an extinct universe, and now runs around this new universe eating planets! Yummy!
Eventually there were legal problems and ownership disputes over these characters that caused Jack Kirby to leave Marvel Comics and head on over to Marvel’s rival, DC Comics, where he created even more fantastic artwork, stories and characters. The Demon, the whole Fourth World Saga with the New Gods and, another favorite, Darkseid.
Damn, what an amazing career, and what a legacy! Jack Kirby defines pure imagination to me. Even if you don’t really appreciate this comic book stuff, you’ve got to admit he left a lot of creative work behind.
But really, it is his artwork that stands out the most. In my library I have a book called the “Kirby: King of Comics“. The drama and action he is able to capture, the way he depicts power and energy, the way he illustrates machines and technology, the simplicity and beauty that goes into each line…
Snap, Kirby-crackle and Pop! POW! ZOOM! BAMPF!