Jack Kirby: Hail to the King, 100 years later

Jack Kirby self portrait

Jack Kirby self portrait (enhanced version, adding other characters from the original drawing)

Hail to the King! Aug. 28, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic book artist Jack Kirby.

“Comic book artist” actually is an inadequate description. Comic book creator is more like it. His nickname was the “King.” It was deserved.

Kirby lived the stories he drew in his mind. The characters he depicted existed in that fertile imagination. At one point his beloved wife Roz banned Kirby from driving. He was so distracted devising new stories he wasn’t safe behind the wheel.

In the 21st century, much of the output of Marvel Studios wouldn’t be possible without Kirby’s contributions: Captain America (co-created with Joe Simon in 1941), the Avengers (co-created with Stan Lee in 1963), Iron Man (co-created with Lee, Larry Lieber and Don Heck, also ’63), Thor (co-created with Lee and Lieber, ’62), Ant-Man (Lee and Lieber, ’61), the Black Panther (co-created with Lee, 1966). Not to mention the X-Men (co-created with Lee, ’63) that are licensed by 20th Century Fox.

Walt Disney Co. reached an out-of-court settlement with the Kirby family that ensured the company would maintain control. Terms weren’t disclosed but ever since Kirby’s on-screen credit in Marvel-made movies is more prominent.

Still, Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) isn’t as well known among the public as Stan Lee is. Stan was the showman and promoter. Kirby was the workhorse at the drawing board who dreamed up much of the story content. Stan gets cameos in every Marvel movie. Kirby got a cameo in one episode of the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV show.

This isn’t intended as a criticism of Stan. For several years in the 1960s, there was a magic every time there was a Stan Lee-Jack Kirby story published by Marvel. It’s just that Kirby deserves more notoriety than he has received.

Kirby has some detractors who note his drawing style wasn’t realistic. In a 2005 documentary, artist Neal Adams said that missed the point.

Paul McCartney and Jack Kirby in 1976

“I don’t think Jack could really draw anatomy,” Adams said. “I don’t think Jack could draw a real car. That wasn’t Jack. He was a visceral animal. (He) drew impressions of things.

“If you sit around with artists and talk about Jack’s anatomy… you would get the artist who was critical. ‘Oh, he doesn’t know how to do anatomy and everything,'” Adams added. “Then you say, ‘But can you do the power that he can do? Can you do it?’ Let’s just say I ask you to do it. Would you know what to do? Wouldn’t you essentially be held back by what you knew?”

Finally, Adams had this thought: “Me as an artist, it overwhelms me to see this gutsy, ballsy thing and in a way say to myself, ‘I can’t do it.'”

No one else could. That’s why Kirby was the King.

To read about the 1976 meeting between Jack Kirby and Paul McCartney, CLICK HERE to read a post from the Jack Kirby Museum website.

To view frequently asked questions about Kirby, prepared by his biographer Mark Evanier, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE (2:45 p.m., Eastern time): Evanier, who once worked as an assistant to Kirby, has his own tribute you can view by CLICKING HERE.

Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, sent out a post on Twitter on Monday afternoon.

 

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One Response

  1. I’ve seen a similar drawing of Stan sitting at a typewriter from which several Marvel characters spill out and climb on him.

    Love how the Human Torch is lighting Kirby’s cigar.

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