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Happy birthday to The King of Comics

August 28, 2013

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Today, August 28th marks the 96th anniversary of the birth of comics most prolific creator, Jack “King” Kirby. To count the number of characters this man created would be near impossible. But almost all of them are still around today, and one of his oldest and most famous creations is 72 years old. This would be of course, Captain America he co-created with Joe Simon.

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Captain America comics came out in 1941, and being a Jewish born New Yorker (Jacob Kurtzberg), it seemed only appropriate that his hero would be knocking out Hitler on the cover. Kirby was drafted into the U.S. Army on June 7, 1943. He was assigned to Company F of the 11th Infantry Regiment. He landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on August 23, 1944, two-and-a-half months after D-Day. Kirby recalled that a lieutenant, learning that comics artist Kirby was in his command, made him a scout who would advance into towns and draw reconnaissance maps and pictures, an extremely dangerous duty.

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Serving as a combat Infantryman, he fought in the campaign at Metz and earned two battle stars and a severe case of frozen feet.

“For instance, you ask me how it was during the war and just the mention of the word brings to mind the first time that I saw General Patton. Well, there was Patton, sore as hell. He wanted to know why we were screwing up his map. He came there with this big map and he spread it out over the hood of this jeep and got all the other officers in my outfit all around to look. Then he looked up at each one of them and said, “What the f*ck are these guys doing here?” and he pointed at the map again and yelled, “What is this? What is this? You’re fouling up the whole f*cking thing! If you’re here, then why the f*ck aren’t they dead? They are all supposed to be dead.” I myself was saying, “Well, sh*t on you. I feel great.”
(Interviews with Jack Kirby and his family between August 1989 through June 1992. Copyright 1999 by Ray Wyman, Jr. JKC #27)

Among his other notable co-creations were the Black Panther (for Marvel in 1966) and Vykin the Black (for DC Comics in 1971) which were the first black superheroes introduced into mainstream comics.

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Aside from comics, Jack also worked in animation (Filmations Thundarr the Barbarian) and movies (Disney’s Black Hole), a comic adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as concept art for Roger Zelazny’s science fiction novel, Lord of Light, which was slated to be made into a movie.

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This commissioned art was stored away when producer Barry Geller lost his funding. It was later picked up by the CIA for use in a daring covert rescue mission of six Americans held in Iran. A fake film production company was created, with offices set up in Hollywood, and permission to film scenes in Iran was obtained, all as a ruse to spirit the Americans out. The Ben Affleck film, Argo, is based on these true events, and these pieces of art played a pivotal role in that astounding and successful mission. Jack was played by Michael Parks in the film.

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Jack Kirby was also a painter with a unique style and vision. Below is a 1978 reproduction of a 1976 painting by Kirby entitled “Mechanoid”.

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And below is a scan of this same painting done in 2008. Kirby used Dr. Martens dyes, and as you can see, it almost looks cooler now than it did 30 years ago.

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(From Jack Kirby Collector sixty-one)

At the comic book convention Marvelcon ’75, Stan Lee used a Fantastic Four panel discussion to announce that Kirby was returning to Marvel after having left in 1970 to work for DC Comics. Lee wrote in his monthly column, “Stan Lee’s Soapbox”, that, “I mentioned that I had a special announcement to make. As I started telling about Jack’s return, to a totally incredulous audience, everyone’s head started to snap around as Kirby himself came waltzin’ down the aisle to join us on the rostrum! You can imagine how it felt clownin’ around with the co-creator of most of Marvel’s greatest strips once more.”

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Stan and Jack 1964

In 1985, legendary artist Gil Kane had this to say about The King ,”Jack was the single most influential figure in the turnaround in Marvel’s fortunes from the time he rejoined the company … It wasn’t merely that Jack conceived most of the characters that are being done, but … Jack’s point of view and philosophy of drawing became the governing philosophy of the entire publishing company and, beyond the publishing company, of the entire field … [Marvel took] Jack and use[d] him as a primer. They would get artists … and they taught them the ABCs, which amounted to learning Jack Kirby. … Jack was like the Holy Scripture and they simply had to follow him without deviation. That’s what was told to me … It was how they taught everyone to reconcile all those opposing attitudes to one single master point of view.”

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Jack’s granddaughter Jillian has started the “Kirby4Heroes” campaign. She says, “I started this (the Kirby4Heroes campaign) as a way to connect with my grandfather, who died the year before I was born. I’ve grown so much closer to him through my endeavors in this area. I have to admit I’m astounded by him as an artist, family member, and just as a kind human being. Raising funds for those in the comic book industry in need of financial and medical assistance is a cause my grandfather Jack would have championed. He never turned his back on a person in need.”

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The Kirby4Heroes video can be seen here on YouTube

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His co-creations The Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men, The Hulk, Thor, and Captain America have grossed $7,310,755,909 for Marvel and Disney.

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Jack’s legacy and influence is still seen even to this day. He was a war veteran, artist, husband and father. He was a creator extraordinaire and will never be forgotten. Thanks again for everything Jack, and happy birthday.

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panel from True Life Divorce comics, DC comics, 1970 never published

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To learn more about Jack, visit his Wikipedia page, or visit the Jack Kirby Museum

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From → artwork

One Comment
  1. Jason Helford permalink

    Great post, Dave! Kirby was the man. And thanks again for the awesome tattoo. I’ve got a few Kirby ideas percolating for the next one…

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