If one had to think of the most influential names in comics, the first person to come to mind is Stan Lee, but that’s just Marvel. On the DC side of things we have Scott Snyder, but what about a man who could do both?
Sure, Scott has done some work for Marvel but these days he almost exclusively works with DC, Stan ‘The Man’ Lee has stuck with Marvel through the years; but there once was a man who did both, and he was probably the most influential writer and creator in comic book history.
None other than Jacob Kurtzburg.
Oh sorry, you probably don’t know him by that name, let me try again.
None other than Jack Kirby.
Ringing any bells now?
Because it should.
And if it doesn’t, I’m going to have to correct that by giving a long list of comic book characters/teams he created/co-created.
Here we go: Captain America, Brotherhood of Mutants, Celestials, Devil Dinosaur, Doctor Doom, Ego the Living Planet, Elektro, Fantastic Four (and each of it’s members), Fin Fang Foom, Forgotten One, Jane Foster, Galactus, Nick Fury, Grey Gargoyle, Heimdall, High Evolutionary, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, the Inhumans (and a good deal of the individual characters), Juggernaut, Adam Warlock, Magneto, the X-Men (along with most members of the team) and a long list of others.
And I haven’t even started on DC.
For DC he created the New Gods (and literally every character associated with them, most notably Big Barda and Mister Miracle), Etrigan, Darkseid, Granny Goddess, Steppenwolf (who features very predominantly in the Justice League trailers), the Parademons, I could go on forever here.
You name a well-established comic book character that isn’t Batman or Superman, chances are ‘King Kirby’ had a hand in their creation; be it as the writer, artist, inker or letterer.
Marvel recently printed a whole bunch of True Believers in honour of King Kirby, reprinting many first appearances of different characters, all of whom, Jack Kirby had a hand in creating.
Born on August 28, 1917, Jack learned to draw comics by copying comic strips in newspapers, eventually working for different comic publishers under many different pen-names, eventually settling on ‘Jack Kirby’. After serving in the European Theatre in WWII, Jack returned to comics, joining up with Joe Simon to create Captain America (for a company called Timely Comics, which eventually became the Marvel we know and love today).
If you’re the kind of person who pays attention to the art in a comic (and, let’s face it, if you read comics you probably do pay attention to the art), you’ll notice the lines along the outer edges of a character’s body. You know, those lines that show just how wide Captain America’s right hook flies before it connects with Hitler’s chin.
Guess who invented those? Kirby.
Another thing Kirby did so well was to showcase the difference between Thor and his human self (if we go by his earliest appearances, once upon a time Thor was just a person who could pick up a specific cane which would turn into Mjolnir, which would, in turn, change him into Thor), kind of like how actor Christopher Reeve perfectly captured the difference between Superman and Clark Kent in a single scene, the one being confident and well postured and the other not.
To perfectly showcase this, I’ve included a link to Journey into Mystery #83 (the first appearance of Thor, as well as his human counterpart Donald Blake) here – just a little forewarning, the site may give you a few captchas, but that’s nothing to worry about.
Notice how Thor is posed confidently, practically showing off his strength and power, and Donald Blake (the man in a blue suit) is drawn as small and physically withdrawn.
Over the years, Jack became dissatisfied with Marvel, the pay was good at Marvel but he just wasn’t all that happy working with them; and if I were in his shoes I probably wouldn’t be that happy either, there was a lack of proper communication between Kirby and Lee; Kirby would come up with an amazing idea, Stan would add to and subtract from it, both would ignore the other’s ideas and when the comic was printed it was too late to make changes. Apparently, Kirby never read the comics he produced, one wonders if he even knew whether or not Stan Lee kept to his original ideas. The other major problem Jack had while working at Marvel was that he felt he wasn’t getting the recognition he deserved, which was the same reason he had when he originally left the company back when it was still called Timely Comics. Eventually, Marvel opted to change Jack’s contract, which sees him earning more but has him sign away certain legal rights when it came to the characters he created and the stories he wrote; he just laughed and made the jump to DC.
Which was probably the best thing he ever could have done for himself; he was earning slightly less than at Marvel, but DC paid attention to what he wanted to do, practically giving him free reign when it came to his creations; as a person, it is said that he was happier when working with DC.
Even though his New Gods didn’t catch on at the time of their first appearance, they’ve since gone on to become some of the most powerful beings in the DC Comics universe, and the most important.
Speaking of the New Gods, has anyone read the newest Mister Miracle comics? It’s a limited run of only twelve issues but just #1 by itself was incredible and I need someone to talk to about it.
Now, I know this is a little late (at the time of writing, it is almost a month after Jack’s 100th birthday), but Happy Birthday to Jack Kirby; comic book readers raise their glasses and tip their hats to you, my good man. Rest in peace.