Happy Jack Kirby Day!
I never met Jack. He was in his 70s before I went to a comic convention of any sort, and died while I was self-absorbed in college. But of course I knew of Jack through his work, both what he himself worked on and through the characters he created but were worked on by others. One of his legacies is that he was just so damned prolific that you almost couldn't help but run across his influence in some capacity.
But here's something that, to this day, astounds and inspires me. His best known work -- creating the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men, etc. -- he didn't start doing any of that until he was in his mid-40s. Jack Kirby was 44 when he created the Fantastic Four. Four years older than I am now. Oh, he had plenty of successes under his belt by then, to be sure, but that was all basically just warm-up. He'd only just started really cutting loose.
And it would be almost ten years later when he threw the Fourth World out to the planet. He was in his mid-50s! When many people are thinking about slowing down or looking forward toward retirement, Jack's still cranking out work like nobody else!
I've heard that many people who were inspired by Jack's work took their drawings to him to see what he thought. And regardless of their skill level, he'd try to find something positive to say and encourage them. But in those encouragements, he also tried to tell them NOT to copy him. Not that he was offended, or felt there was any sort of competition, but he wanted people to create IN THEIR OWN VOICE. He wanted to see people inspired to be who they were, not who they tried to copy. Don't try to be the best Jack Kirby you could be, because you'd only be a clone of somebody; try to be the best YOU you can be, because no one is going to be able to replicate that.
That's advice I've heeded myself over many years. Although I can't say for certain, I think the idea was swirling around in my brain at some level at least since high school. I'm not out here trying to be a second-rate Heidi MacDonald or Tom Spurgeon. I'm not trying to copy Peter Sanderson or Will Murray. They do what they do, better than I ever could.
I'm out here, doing my own thing, living my own life, being the best Sean Kleefeld I can be. I'm not drawing comics, like I thought I would when I was 12. I'm not writing comics, an idea that I liked when I was 27. But I'm doing what I do, whatever it is that this is. And that was inspired, at least in part, by Jack Kirby's example. I'd like to think he'd be pleased.
Besides, I've still got four more years to create something as mind-bogglingly ground-breaking as the Fantastic Four.