Happy 100th Birthday, Jack Kirby!

By | Monday, August 28, 2017 Leave a Comment
I've had a regular column in The Jack Kirby Collector since 2004, I've wrote about him on this blog numerous times, but I don't think I've ever relayed what Jack actually means to me. Given that today would have been his hundredth birthday, I thought I might rectify that.

I saw Jack's work, initially, only through his shadows. Most of the comics I read as a really young child were mostly DC's classic characters, as they were portrayed in the late '60s and early-to-mid '70s. I scarcely knew of Marvel's stable of characters, except perhaps Spider-Man (probably via The Electric Company). So my first introduction to Jack's characters was when I started reading John Byrne's Fantastic Four in the early '80s. Brilliant work, and it's no wonder why it's considered classic, but I think Byrne himself will be the first to admit that he was basically just shadowing Kirby himself.

It was only after I gained a real interest in Byrne's FF that I began to seek out more stories with these characters in them. My local library had a few 1970s trade paperbacks that reprinted a few issues, and I came across the the Pocket Books 1977 collection that reprinted issues #1-6 at some point. I don't know if it really clicked with me that Jack Kirby was the driving force behind the stories at this point; I suspect I just saw him as the guy who just happened to draw these stories.

But it wasn't much later before I started taking an interest in WHO was actually creating these stories. So I read what comics magazines I could get my hands on (which, frankly, wasn't much) and it just so happened to be around the time Jack was fighting to get his original artwork back from Marvel. So a lot of what I did read included longer biographies of Jack and his contributions beyond just being the guy who happened to draw these stories.

I quickly learned how central Jack was to creating the entire Marvel Universe. I don't need to rattle off the names of all the characters he created or co-created. But basically, everything I was reading at that point originated from Jack. My young teenage mind was staggered by the imagination and creativity that must have sprung from Jack's mind.

So my interest in "researching" the Fantastic Four (at that point, just reading as many FF stories as I could) began widening to include researching the creators as well. And as I learned more about Jack, the more impressed I became.

See, Jack is frequently remembered for the vast number of brilliant ideas and concepts he put down on paper over his career. Hell, the genius that went into Fantastic Four by itself would be worthy of eternal praise, but you throw on top of that the X-Men, the Avengers, the New Gods, the Eternals, the Demon, the Challengers of the Unknown... Then his whole body of monster stories with Atlas... He frickin' invented the whole romance comics genre... Jack's career is absolutely astounding! Jack's career is essentially a history of 20th century American comics!

But that's only part of why I have a deep admiration and respect for Jack Kirby.

See, the part that most people don't see is Jack, the human being. The guy who single-handedly tried taking on the mob who was trying to shake protection money out of the Eisner/Iger studio. The guy who, when his office was phoned by Nazi-sympathizers threatening to kill him, ran downstairs to fight them in the lobby. The guy who considered getting drafted for WWII as his country sending him to Germany not too fight Nazis, but so he could "go kill Hitler." The guy who would put his butt in his chair and work for 14-hour days to make sure his family had a better life than he had. The guy who, despite putting in 14-hour days, is remembered as a loving husband and father who always seemed to make time for those he loved. The guy who provided encouragement for every would-be artist who asked him to look at their work, no matter how bad it was.

Jack Kirby was a creative genius, but more impressive, he was just an incredible human being. He helped out everyone he could, often even if it was to his own detriment. He had an impressively optimistic view of the world, despite being grounded in the realisms of war and those who would profit off others. He did what he did to make life better for his family, friends, and mankind in general. And when, as it often did, required a lot of hard work on his part, he just soldiered on without complaining. Doing his bit, because that's just what you're supposed to do.

I strive, and usually fail, to live up to Jack Kirby's example. I'm not creative enough. I don't work hard enough. I don't do enough good for others. I don't stand up to injustices staunchly enough. But I keep a small bust of Jack just above my computer monitor to remind what I should aim towards. That's what I get from Jack Kirby; he created not just an impressive body of work, but he led just a damned impressive life.

I'll leave off with my favorite quote from Jack, taken from The Masters Of Comic Book Art documentary...
I'm a guy that lives with a lot of questions. I say "What's out there?", and I try to resolve that. And I never can. I don't think anybody can. Who's got the answers? I sure would like to hear the ultimate one. But I haven't yet. And so I live with a lot of questions. And I find that entertaining. If my life were to end tomorrow, it would be fulfilled in that manner. I would say, "The questions have been terrific."
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