Kirby, Jack

Tagged: Comics | Art

(1917-1994) US comic-book illustrator, born Jacob Kurtzberg. One of the giants in the Comics industry, he began his more than fifty-year career in 1935 working on newspaper comic strips (with a break in 1936, animating Popeye cartoons for Max Fleischer). He later broke into the comic-book field, creating Captain America with Joe Simon in 1941 for Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics); he also worked on Captain Marvel.

His main claim to fame, however, was his work in the 1960s for Marvel Comics, by then under the direction of Stan Lee. In 1961 Lee and Kirby created The Fantastic Four (a group of Superheroes), one of the most popular series in the history of the genre. He also created, or helped create, dozens of other superheroes, including The Incredible Hulk and X-Men, which propelled Marvel to the top of the business.

Kirby left the Marvel organization in 1970 and for a while worked for DC Comics, where he was given greater creative freedom and produced an interesting group of four interconnected superhero comics, including New Gods (referred to as "Kirby's Fourth World"). During this particularly fertile time, he also created a Planet of the Apes-inspired Post-Holocaust series, Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth.

Kirby returned to Marvel in 1976, where was able to write and draw his own titles. Creative highlights from this period include his return to Captain America, a new series about a secret race of Alien-bred superhumans known as The Eternals, and an astonishing (if otherwise forgotten) adaptation and expansion of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Seeking better working conditions (Marvel always considered Kirby a freelancer, with no right to health insurance coverage), Kirby left Marvel and spent the next few years working in film and animation. In 1979, he drew concept art for two proposed projects: a film adaptation of the Roger Zelazny novel Lord of Light (1967) and a theme park, to be called Science Fiction Land. Neither project came to fruition, although in a strange twist of fate, the Central Intelligence Agency used some of this artwork in 1979 to aid some of its operatives pose as movie location scouts and thus help them avoid being captured during the Iranian hostage crisis of that year.

Kirby returned to comics again in 1981, creating, for the first time, material for which he owned the trademark and copyright, an important step toward creator rights in the comic book field. His two resulting sf series, Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers and Silver Star, both published by San Diego-California-based Pacific Comics, ran through 1984.

His last major work was a Graphic Novel, The Hunger Dogs (graph 1985), a continuation and culmination of his New Gods series for DC Comics. See The Hunger Dogs for details.

This period also saw an extended lawsuit for the return of his original artwork done for Marvel Comics. A small portion of his work was finally given back to the artist in 1987.

Kirby's style is blocky but with a power and sense of drama that many other comics artists lack and frequently try to emulate. His use of motion-picture techniques (such as still-frame storytelling) and dramatic perspectives has influenced most of today's comics artists.

His work is reproduced in Origins of Marvel Comics (1974), Son of Origins of Marvel Comics (1975) and Bring on the Bad Guys (1976), all edited by Stan Lee, and in many more recent and accessible collections, including many volumes of the Marvel Masterworks series (1986 onwards) and collections of his work for various publishers. The Jack Kirby Award for achievement in comic books was presented from 1985 to 1987, though thereafter replaced by the Eisner and Harvey awards for comics. [JG/RH/PN/JP]

Jacob Kurtzberg

born New York: 28 August 1917

died Thousand Oaks, California: 6 February 1994

works (selected)

further reading

  • Ray Wyman, Jr. The Art of Jack Kirby (Orange, California: Blue Rose Press, 1992) [graph: illus/hb/Jack Kirby]
  • Mark Evanier. Kirby: King of Comics (New York: Abrams, 2008) [nonfiction: biography of Kirby: hb/Jack Kirby]

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