Jack and Me

By | Tuesday, February 06, 2007 Leave a Comment
Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the death of Jack Kirby. I'm generally not one to dwell on or celebrate anniversaries like this -- I'd prefer to celebrate the individual's life. But I do have some regrets with regard to The King, and this seems like an apporpriate day to share them.

I was born in 1972. By that time, Kirby was already well-known and established as The King of comic book storytelling. Indeed, he had alreayd caused a huge stir by leaving the Marvel Universe that he co-founded to create a new universe with his Fourth World series at DC, which also was beginning to wind down. By the time I was old enough to read and, more significantly choose what I wanted to read, Jack was largely retired from doing month-to-month publications.

As I noted some time ago, I didn't really become a fan of the comic book medium until 1983. Marvel and DC had both left Jack behind for young hot-shots like John Byrne and Frank Miller. So for an eleven-year-old like myself -- for whom history is largely unknown and even wholly irrelevant beyond one's own memory -- I had no real grasp on who Jack was or what he had done.

My favorite comic at the time was John Byrne's Fantastic Four. Over the course of a few years after beginning the series, I learned something of the comic's history. In the days before the Internet, information was relatively scarce and costly for the limited resources of an early teenager. I have to admit to being somewhat grateful a year or two later for the arguements Jack had with Marvel about their returning his original artwork -- it gave rise to a number of articles about Jack's history in comics, as well as articles about his early creations at Marvel. This proved to be an invaluable source of information for my sponge-like brain at the time. I didn't fully understand all of the issues involved, but I understood the basic history at least.

As the years progressed, I continued learning more about the Fantastic Four. In my search for back issues, I began reading the original Lee/Kirby stories. My resources were expanding (I had gotten a job at McDonald's) but it was still slow-going. The demands of my college major were especially absorbing (including spending whole weeks at a time living out the campus studios) and I did little more than read the new issues as they came out. It wasn't until I finished college in 1995 that my parents got me a copy of Fantastic Four #1 as a graduation gift, and essentially finalized my collecting old stories about the FF.

Now in the working world, I began taking a larger interest in the men behind the Fantastic Four. I had learned a few things about Stan and Jack over the years, but that was usually tangental to the Fantastic Four themselves. And it was only then that I learned that Jack Kirby had died. And it was only AFTER that that I really began to appreciate what Jack had done. Not just for the Fantastic Four, but for the comic industry as a whole. I had heard he had been influential, but it wasn't until I started, really started, to read about Jack that his impact began to sink in. I began to understand just how much impact he had indirectly had upon me.

When I can, I like to express my appreciation to people who made an impact on my life. Not just in comics, but in life in general. Several years back, I made a point of writing letters of appreciation to some of the surviving teachers I had back in high school. When I read a particularly moving story or see an especially well-done show, I'll try to say something to those involved. It's not a matter of trying to gain their favor, or bask in the light of their talent(s) hoping something might magically transfer to me through osmosis... I simply and sincerely want to show my appreication. When I talk to comic book creators, I give them my honest opinion and make a point to elaborate on exactly why they (or their work) had an effect on me.

But I never did that with Jack. I only paid attention to his shadows while he was alive, and I never took the opportunity to see if I couldn't tell him what he meant to me. Jack wasn't exactly a spring chicken by the time I could even read his name, but I feel like I should have made a stronger effort. Maybe I couldn't have flown out to see him at Comic-Con, and maybe he didn't have e-mail, but I could still have written a letter. I could have c/o'd it through Marvel or DC or someone. Maybe it wouldn't have been as articulate as I could make it now, but it would have been something.

I don't have many regrets in my life; I'm fairly happy with how things have gone overall. But if I could go back in time to tell myself anything, I'd see if I could look up myself at age 16 or so. I'd say, "First of all, this high school crap is just crap; things get much better for you in college. Secondly, tell Jack Kirby what a great storyteller he is." That's it. (Well, I might add something about investing in Marvel Comics when they drop below 50 cents a share!)

I never really knew Jack to say that I miss him. I'm envious of anyone who ever had the pleasure of even meeting him. I'm sorry I never told him what he did for me.
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