I don't even know where to begin. Just the thought of writing anything about Jack Kirby sends the mind racing, words scatter and shatter as you try to form cohesive thoughts that will properly honor the man.
Let's try this, let me start here. Jack Kirby is the single most important figure, the greatest singular talent that the comic book world has ever experienced. There will never ever be anyone with the magnitude of his magnificent impact in any medium, ever again.
" We create entire worlds with our pen and paper. Our budgets are limited only by our imaginations." Those are the words of the one and true King of Comics, spoken to a crowded hall at the L.A. Convention Center during a comic creators panel that I was fortunate to participate in. I was seated next to Jack, it was 1990 and I was as intimidated and more in awe than I'd ever been at any time before or since. He was a diminutive man, which, in all honesty, is even more impressive given how much creative power and energy was housed within his stern but tiny frame. Soft spoken but confident. His every word had tremendous power and authority befitting the creator of a multitude of universes.
Universes you ask? Yes, UNIVERSES! Plural. A quick reminder of the many works that have exploded from Jack Kirby's pen: Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Silver Surfer, Black Panther and that's just scratching the glossy surface of his best known Marvel work. The Marvel Universe is his resume. As far as imagination landscape, no one has as much artistic square footage than the King of Comics. Over at DC, he created the acclaimed Fourth World and its family of books, Mr. Miracle, New Gods, Forever People, The Demon, Manhunter, Kamandi and my personal favorite Kirby creation, O.M.A.C. The One Man Army Corps. Much later in his storied career, he ventured out beyond these fabulous creations, towards Independent comics outside of DC and Marvel, giving us Captain Victory, Silver Star and later on Satan's Six, Secret City and Captain Glory. And there were so many more heroes and villains that we never experienced, stories and art that had yet to be fulfilled, I was witness to drawers and drawers full of character sheets and pages that were fresh, lush and beautiful, never to be completed due to his untimely passing in 1994.
In short, Jack Kirby's imaginations and designs are among the most original and definitive of any artist that ever worked in the comic book industry. I was always particularly drawn to his lesser known works, The Inhumans, The Eternals, and the aforementioned Forever People. The costumes and characters contained in the pages of these works had a profound influence on my own desire to write and illustrate comics at a very young age before I broke into the business, and they inspired me long after.
Have you witnessed the overwhelmingly positive reactions to the trailers and visuals for the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok? Have you read the reactions online to the fabulous look, feel and vision of this film? People are completely bowled over by it. Quite simply, they are reacting to the extraordinary and distinct costume designs and world building that defined Jack Kirby. Chris Hemsworth finally donning his silver helmet or Kate Blanchett in her full Hela regalia represent pure, literal visions and applications of Jack's most ambitious costume designs come roaring to spectacular life, modeled in beautiful flesh and blood for all to behold. The color and palette of the film are in line with the pop scheme that accompanied Jack's most popular works. Kudos to Taika Waititi and his production team for both tackling and executing Jack's wonderful costumes and dress like no one has before.
Kudos also to James Gunn who gave us our first glimpse of the almighty Celestials, albeit briefly in the first Guardians film. My friends and I shifted on our seats, slapping each other's arms as we watched these signature Kirby creations move on the screen. "Celestials!!" we screamed! Seriously, people, the freaking Celestials appeared for just a moment, but it was enough for me to lose my mind! If ever there was a group of characters that summoned a more definitive Kirby vibe, I'm not aware of them. And there they were.
Here's the bottom line for much of what I'm trying to say, we are only now beginning to experience the long awaited, much anticipated, cinematic expansion of Kirby's visionary style and there is so much more on the way. The upcoming Justice League film is built entirely around the impending threat of Darkseid and his fiery Apokolips and the impending doom it spells for the entire DC Cinematic Universe. Darkseid was created as an adversary that drove the narrative in all of Jack's Fourth World line of comics in 1970. For years he was strictly contained to those titles. Then, in the early '80s, Darkseid became the go to villain, the dominant threat for DC's heavy hitters, and they never looked back. Over time, Darkseid and all of Kirby's Fourth World have come to stand as the premier threat and sinister influence on the DCU. Look no further than the Parademons, Darkseid's stormtroopers, that sweep across the apocalyptic landscape that Batman envisions in Batman Vs. Superman or the role that Steppenwolf, General of Darkseid's armies, plays in the Justice League film to witness the Kirby influence pouring out across the cinema.
So why is this important? Why have I focused so much on the Cinematic influence of Jack Kirby not yet having arrived at the proper celebration of his staggering body of celebrated comics? Because he is no longer with us, he is not here, in person, to promote himself. Jack's not here to do the press circuit and properly shape the narrative of his tremendous influence. These movies are the primary way that society, that our kids, my kids, are digesting these worlds and by reminding
What can you say about Jack Kirby's comics work that hasn't been said before? He was as prolific as any
Jack had no weakness in his comic book storytelling, he was a master of the form and craft. My advice? No matter where you start, The Fantastic Four or Mr. Miracle or Machine Man, it makes no difference, they each contain his wonderful, signature influence and appeal. But take my word, this is my best advice for you: consume ALL of it. Each and every comic, every panel he produced carries his unique magic. They are all a joy to experience.
My most meaningful encounters with Jack came during the summer of 1992, as I was wandering the aisles of comic-con, his wonderful wife, Roz Kirby, gestured towards me to come over. She brought Jack out from behind the table and he walked slowly towards me (he was wearing a fully tailored suit, by the way). He extended his hand out and told me that he was so proud of me and so proud of what my friends were doing with Image Comics. I was stunned to near tears by this kind gesture. He told me that he'd be doing that same thing if he was in our shoes. I reminded him that he had done the same thing, much earlier, with the launch of Pacific Comics and his creator owned work. He smiled and said, " You know what I mean." He continued to tell me that he enjoyed my work and the energy it contained. I was speechless. Roz then asked if I'd like to come to the house sometime soon for a more personal visit.
Of course, I accepted immediately and only a few weeks later myself and a group of guys from my studio, including current Image publisher Eric Stephenson, drove out for a visit that remains a highlight of my very existence. We arrived at 3 pm in the afternoon and left shortly after midnight. The full exchange and details of that visit would fill several chapters of a book, but what I remember most distinctly was that we were seated in the presence of the single most important figure in the history of comic books. The stories he shared, the lessons he imparted lifted our spirits and inspired us in ways that those of us fortunate to have been there still discuss to this day. That evening, we poured over his original art which included so many unpublished sketches and illustrations, but also entire issues of some of his finest work. It was breathtaking.
He was and remains absolutely amazing in all that he achieved. I see his influence in every artist I've ever been impressed by, and I'm not limiting that description to comics artists. You better believe that the godfathers of modern day cinema carry a major Kirby influence. Look no further than George Lucas and his original Star Wars for generous portions of Jack Kirby DNA. I've always felt that If you aren't implementing Kirby in some way, shape or form, you are completely missing out on this man's genius.
Celebrate this most brilliant of imaginations. The pop culture of 2017 and beyond is one engineered from the blueprints of the ultimate dreamer. We enjoy the fruits of Kirby's visionary talent every day. His imprimatur is on your television screen, on your tablet, in the toy aisles, in the game consoles, the cinema, and aisles of published works. The Marvelization of our times exists because he simply drew it into being.
Thank you, Jack Kirby, for your life, for your example and for sharing your outstanding creations. Thank you for a lifetime of the very best comic books and characters that continue to amaze, inspire and astound every one of us! Happy 100th Birthday!