Jack Kirby would have turned 97 today, and all across the internet, fans and creators alike are celebrating the man who stands head and shoulders above all other western comic creators.
A young Jewish kid from the rough streets of Depression-era New York and a veteran of the second World War, Kirby was a force of nature whose imagination seems to have been limitless. There are many creators today riding on his coattails, working on the myriad characters he created or co-created:
- Captain America
- The Avengers
- Captain Victory
- the Fantastic Four
- Fin Fang Foom
- Thor (for Marvel comics)
- Nick Fury
- the Forever People
- Challengers of the Unknown
- Silver Surfer
- the Incredible Hulk
- etc. etc. etc.
These creators love to play in Kirby’s “sandbox,” paying homage to the artist who invigorated the comics medium with an energy and a boldness that launched it on the path of popularity that has now seen its influence blast into the film making business in a manner not thought possible fifteen years ago. And yet, their fealty falls short because they are not adhering to Kirby’s first rule of comic creation - go make something new. That, as much as anything is Kirby’s lasting legacy.
I was first introduced to Kirby with the Super Powers mini-series and toy lines of the mid-1980s. This was unfortunate. I remember being unimpressed with his art. I thought it was ugly and didn’t adhere to the idealized “realistic” imagery of a John Byrne or a George Perez (still my favorite comic artist, whose work tugs at my nostalgic insides any time I see a new book from him).
Years later - and I wish I knew what prompted this, because it was a full-on re-evaluation of multiple silver and golden age artists, on my part - I finally “got” Kirby. It may have been a result of hearing Jon Bogdanove speak affectionately about Kirby and his influence and his versatility, along with an analysis of what it was about his Marvel, and subsequent DC, work that spoke to me. The energy in the pages, the characters bursting from the panel borders, elongated in extreme kineticism, large than life characters that refused to be penned in by these artificial boundaries. I saw it. I understood it. And I appreciated it. Very much.
Since then, I’ve done my best to educate myself on Kirby (i.e. I’ve read a lot of his comics that I missed out on before, and big props to Marvel & DC and their relatively recent repackaging of Kirby’s early works into lovely hardbound collections). His art - and the adventure and imagination present in his stories, particularly his 1970s work for DC - is a wonder to behold. There’s nothing as satisfying, for me, as reading a Kirby comics, whether it’s something new (to me) or something I’ve read before. The layouts, the impressionistic figure work, the energy - it’s all pure bliss.
There’s a part of me that regrets not grokking to Kirby earlier, but that is mitigated by the fact that I now have more opportunities to enjoy his work while also realizing there’s still a wealth of great stuff I can look forward to.
Happy Kingday! BOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!