Talk to a casual fan of comic books and the name Stan Lee will come up eventually as the guy who made comics what they are today. But talk to any real comic book fan — or comic book writer, or comic book artist, anyone who lives, breathes, and dreams comic books – and they will tell you that Jack Kirby is the King.
Jack Kirby is one of the most influential comic book creators of all time. His creations have been inspiring awe since the 1940’s, and his art is still influencing comic artists to this day. But what do we know about the man?
It seemed only fitting for us to do some research into the man, the myth, the king; Jack Kirby.
Jack Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg on the Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York City on August 28, 1917. His parents were poor Jewish immigrants from Austria, and Kirby grew up in a very rough neighborhood. He would escape the violence around his house and run errands for local newspaper reporters from Daily News and Hearst News companies. Kirby later talked of this time as when he found love for comics. He would read the comic strips like Prince Valiant by Hal Foster and trace the pictures over and over again, until he began to design his own creations.
Early Comics Work
In 1936,Kurtzberg found his way into drawing cartoons for the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate, where he worked until 1939. He left to work for a new animation studio, Fleischer Studios. hand drawing the animations for Popeye. Jack left that job quickly, stating that the company was a picture factory, not a place to create art.
He moved on to work at Eisner & Iger, a company that was formed by the great Will Eisner and Jerry Iger to meet the growing demand for comic books that was sweeping through American popular culture. Kirby drew and wrote comic strips for Eisner & Iger under several pseudonyms such as Jack Curtis and Ted Grey, among others, before settling on Jack Kirby, which reminded him of his favorite actor, James Cagney.
Jack Kirby and Comic Books
Kirby moved on to work at Fox Feature Syndicate drawing and writing comic strips once again. He created and wrote his first superhero character with Fox, The Blue Beatle (bought by DC comics in 1983), and wrote the character for three months. It was at Fox that he met the legendary Joe Simon, and the two became fast friends.
Kirby left Fox to draw the premier issue of Captain Marvel for Fawcett comics, the character had been introduced some time before, but his popularity had earned him his own title. Kirby left the project because he had been told to mimic the art of CC Beck, something he wasn’t comfortable with.
Joe Simon hired Kirby to help him create a new character for Timely Comics (later to be known as Marvel Comics). Their task was to create a patriotic character that people could get behind. With World War II on the horizon, the duo created one of the most popular comic book characters of all time: Captain America. The first issue sold out in the first day, and over 1 million copies were eventually reprinted to reach the demand, and it established Simon and Kirby as some of the biggest names in the industry.
Kirby and Simon felt that they were being treated unfairly at Timely Comics, and moved to one of their competitors, National Comics (later known as DC Comics). There they were given a substantial raise, and the creative freedom to produce whatever they wanted. The duo created Martian Manhunter, and revamped the character Sandman into a fighter of Nazi’s. Their most popular creation for National Comics was the Boy Commando’s, about a group of young kids fighting against Nazi’s.
During this time Kirby was drafted into the United States war effort, and upon hearing that he was a comic book artist, his commanding officer made him a scout. He was sent into enemy territory to draw maps for his division. He was discharged due to Trench foot, and returned from the war in January of 1945. Kirby went back to comics.
The Silver Age and Marvel Comics
Skipping ahead a bit, Kirby really hit his stride in the Silver Age. Kirby began creating characters with Stan Lee in an effort to save the failing company, Atlas Comics (another precursor to Marvel). The two were given free reign to create whatever they wanted to. It was during this time that they created some of the most recognizable characters to have ever been featured on the pages of comic books. Between 1960 and 1970 the two created The Fantastic Four, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the original X-Men, Doctor Doom, Uatu the Watcher, Magneto, Ego the Living Planet, the Inhumans, and comic books’ first black super hero, the Black Panther.
The Bronze Age and DC Comics
Growing ever more dissatisfied with Marvel Comics, Jack Kirby decided it was time to move on. He went on to create at DC Comics, and create he certainly did. The Fourth World Saga is an enduring love letter to mythology and science fiction. Touching on many of the same themes that he had developed in his Thor comics, Kirby created the New Gods, Darkseid, and Mister Miracle. He told stories of revenge, war, and revolution on a cosmic scale. For his Fourth World Saga, Jack Kirby developed the idea to combine them into collected editions to be sold as a single story, creating the first trade paperbacks.
While at DC Kirby created other characters such as; OMAC, Kamandi, and The Demon Etrigan.
Return to Marvel
In 1976, Kirby found himself in the room at Marvel Comics once again. He wrote and drew on the new Captain America title, as well as several others. During this time, he also created the Eternals. Diving back into the cosmic mythology that he loved to create, the Eternals were a new reimagining of the gods, and Kirby pitched them into a never ending battle against the Celestials. He also created characters like Machine Man and Devil Dinosaur, adding them to the list of characters that have continued to find themselves represented in the pages of Marvel comics.
Jack Kirby’s Final Years
Jack Kirby left Marvel again in 1978. He worked on several cartoons, including on the Fantastic Four with Stan Lee, and worked on more comic books under several different publishers. His career continued on for several years, until on February 6th, 1994, The King of Comic Books died in his home due to heart failure. He was 76.
Jack Kirby and his Family
Jack Kirby met his wife, Rosalind “Roz” Goldstein, in the early 1940’s. The two married in May of 1942 and had 4 kids together.
Jack Kirby may not have lived to see his creations become the massive stars that they have become, but his legacy continues on. The characters that he created throughout his years at Marvel and DC continue to be some of the most popular fictional characters of all time. Stan Lee may be one of the most known faces in the comic book industry, but without his partnership with Jack Kirby, those characters may never have been what they are now. We are certainly glad that Jack Kirby was given the opportunities that he was. All hail the King.