"The dude drew Captain America punching Hitler in the face, felt unfulfilled doing it artistically, drew all his comics for his war service in advance, and then went off to go kill a bunch of Nazis."Jack "The King" Kirby
is, quite simply, one of the most important and influential artists and writers ever
in American comics. This is the man who created or co-created dozens
of classic characters for DC
, and he is universally considered one the masters of the medium, on a par with Osamu Tezuka
, Will Eisner
His incredibly unique art style and bombastic storytelling made him one of the most imitated creators in western comics history. Kirby Dots
are named after the artist's distinctive rendering of Battle Auras
, also nicknamed, "the Kirby Krackle". He died of heart failure in 1994 at the age of 76, or at least that's what Galactus wants
us to believe. Due to his speed in creating well-received comics, there exists something called the "Kirby Barrier"; breaking the barrier means that you've created a quality comic in under a week, a surprisingly difficult feat.
In the Marvel Universe
looks like Jack Kirby. Or, he did in one story
. It should be noted that both Kirby and his comic book partner Stan Lee
also exist there as normal people who write comics based on the 'actual' adventures of the superheroes
Before working with Lee, he had a ridiculously creative partnership with Joe Simon, starting in the 1940s. Among other things, the two co-created Captain America
and the entire genre
of romance comics. He then spent much of the late 50s working on Atlas Comics' monster stories
with Stan Lee
, co-creating characters who would eventually become Marvel mainstays, including Fin Fang Foom
After this came the famous early Marvel period, where the Lee-and-Kirby team built the Marvel Universe from the ground up. However, towards the end of the 70s, the increased prominence of natural showman Lee and unfavourable working conditions led Kirby to become disillusioned with the company and leave. After Kirby left Marvel, he went to DC Comics
and created "The Fourth World" series, New Gods
, The Forever People
and Mister Miracle
as well as insisting on taking over Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen
which didn't have an assigned art team so he wouldn't cause anyone to lose their job. In those titles, Kirby created a grand cosmic mythos he planned to have reprinted into bound volumes for resale. Unfortunately, this idea was around 15 years ahead of its time and DC's publisher, Carmine Infantino, pulled the plug before Kirby could see the project through. New Gods
was reportedly his favourite of his works, and is commonly regarded by Kirby fans and scholars as his greatest achievement
Kirby remained with DC writing individual titles like The Demon
, Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth
and even returned to Marvel for a time to single-handedly write and draw Captain America
, Black Panther
and new titles like The Eternals
and Devil Dinosaur
, before his work rate finally
started to slow down.
Ironically, his most satisfying work at this point was in animation and toys with designs for Thundarr the Barbarian
and creating the designs for Kenner
's famous Super Powers
toy series where he finally
got direct compensation working on the classic DC Comics
characters. In the Eighties he also became one of the first major creators to write creator-owned comics for the Direct Market, writing Silver Star
and Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers
Unfortunately, Kirby was also a poster boy for how artists were treated by the companies who became multibillion dollar industries because of them. The dubious "work for hire" contract policies in those days meant that artists were paid for no more than the "page rate" for the comics that they drew. Consequently, despite their characters becoming iconic, Kirby and the other artists of his generation made absolutely no royalties of any kind and were denied any chance to share in the successes of their creations. Also, he was the center of the art controversy during the mid 1980s when Marvel's image was tarnished by their shameful claim that he and the other artists had no rights to their own original artwork. Public pressure eventually forced Marvel into coughing up a pension for his widow, and the Kirby estate is currently trying to regain Kirby's share of the copyright on his Marvel Comics characters, but whether or not their efforts would bear fruit remains to be seen.
No relation to a certain pink, walking marshmallow
Partial list of his creations/co-creations:
- For Marvel Comics:
- With Joe Simon:
- With Stan Lee:
- By himself:
- For DC Comics:
- Challengers of the Unknown
- New Gods (Including Darkseid)
- Etrigan the Demon
- Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth
- OMAC, The One Man Army Corps
- The Sandman (Garrett Sanford)
- Young Romance (Both the influential comic series, and arguably - definitively, according to The Other Wiki - the entire genre of romance comics)
- Captain Victory and Silver Star, which might not have been successes for Pacific Comics, but helped create precedent for the creator-owned comic (see Kirby's travails with Marvel and DC, above)
- More Aliens and Monsters than you can shake a xenomorph at
- Pretty much created the Monster Modesty trope
- Army Scout: He pulled this duty when he was a private in World War II when an officer learned he was an artist. It was only time he regretted his calling while trying to survive that dangerous posting.
- Author Avatar:
- Kirby included Stan Lee and himself as guests of the marriage of Reed Richards and Sue Storm. Nick Fury did not allow them to pass.
- The One-Above-All, the omnipotent but mostly unseen creator God of the entire Marvel Omniverse, is widely believed to be an avatar of Kirby.
- Author Appeal: Ancient Astronauts, the Reluctant Warrior and kid gangs are the clearest examples.
- Badass: There's a story that before the US entered WWII, some American Nazis called to the offices offering to fight Kirby and Joe Simon, creators of Captain America. Jack supposedly rolled up his sleeves and immediately headed downstairs, but when he got down they were gone... Will Eisner also regularly told a story about a gangster who tried to claim protection money from the Eisner studio being physically intimidated by a young Kirby into giving up and leaving.
- Bold Inflation: One of the trademarks of his lettering! It contributed greatly to the "epic" tone of his work.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: During his first Marvel period, one of the things that really rankled him is how he was treated like mere hired help when Stan Lee got all the plaudits for the Marvel Universe to the point where some reporters thought he drew the stories Kirby did. And unfortunately, this is still the case, since Jack didn't live to experience the profile boost given to Stan Lee by the modern movie adaptations of their work.
- Executive Meddling: When he created the Mighty Thor, he planned to have the hero's story eventually end with Ragnarok, like in the original myths. When the Powers that Be vetoed this final end, he went on to create the New Gods, whose story he intended to end with final battle between Orion and his father, Darkseid. When the Powers that Be vetoes this final end, he went on to create the Eternals, which he intended to end with the ultimate confrontation with the Celestials. When the Powers that Be... and so on.
- Happily Married: To Roz Kirby.
- He Also Did: Kirby became an animator for Fleischer Studios in the late 1930's, but felt it was like working in a factory, so his tenure there was brief.
- Kirby Dots: Trope namer and originator for his way of showing energy radiating. He especially loved doing this for Battle Auras.
- Only Six Faces: Most of his characters' faces look a lot alike aside from paraphernalia like helmets and hairstyles. Those that are actually distinctive facially (Darkseid, Desaad, Orion without his helmet, Dan Turpin) are usually hideous.
- Pen Name: As was the case with many of the early comicbook men, "Jack Kirby" was a nom de plume. He was born Jacob Kurtzberg.
- Self-Imposed Challenge: When he joined DC, he voluntarily took over Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, their worst performing title which was on the verge of being cancelled, and supposedly promised he'd make it a best-seller. What is definitely true is that he took it over because it was the ONLY book without a set team, and he didn't want to kick anyone else off of their books.
- Shout-Out: In the movie Crimson Tide, Submarine Executive Officer Hunter points out to a crew member on the boat that "anyone who reads comic books knows that the Kirby Silver Surfer is the only true Silver Surfer."
- Minoriteam would always have an end credit giving special thanks to "King" Kirby.
- Splash Panel: Kirby was possibly the king of the splash page. Many of his stories start with a trademark one-two punch of a title page close-up splash to establish tension, followed by a double-page splash of something huge happening. The openings of New Gods or OMAC are probably the most well known.
- What Could Have Been:
- Kirby started designing the New Gods in the late '60s at Marvel, where they would have been a post-Ragnarok continuation of Thor. What's less well-known is that OMAC started life as a Captain-America-in-the-future pitch.
- During The Seventies, Jack Kirby was the conceptual art designer for an aborted attempt to produce a film based on Roger Zelazny's 1967 novel Lord of Light. His art was later re-used for the CIA's fake movie ''Argo''. He even gets a split-second cameo in the film! (The art actually seen in the film, however, isn't his, or even much like it.)
- Kirby produced the first 17 pages of an adaptation of one of his favourite series, Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner. Unfortunately, the series never materialised, but some art can be found online.