To celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Jack Kirby's birth, ComicBook.com reached out to dozens of comics luminaries to get their thoughts on "The King."
The results of those conversations follow.
A number of these remarks, including those from Image Comics co-founders Erik Larsen and Rob Liefeld and Wynonna Earp creator Beau Smith, have already been spun out as stand-alone stories, in part because of their length. A similar story will be forthcoming with comments from Spawn creator Todd McFarlane.
There are a great many outstanding e-mails, so you can feel free to bookmark this story and check back throughout the week. As we get late replies we will add them to the tribute below.
Kirby was born on August 28, 1917, and was responsible, either wholly or in part, for the creations of hundreds of comic book characters, many of whom are still in publication today. Kirby was a key part of the creation of the Marvel Universe, as well as creating characters like the New Gods and Kamandi at DC Comics.
Kirby passed away on February 6, 1994, but comics have continued to celebrate his legacy since, with every August 28 being a "wake up and draw Kirby" tradition for artists, many of whom sell their works to benefit the Hero Initiative.
Kamandi Challenge Contributors
Throughout 2017, DC has been celebrating 100 years of The King with a year-long series, The Kamandi Challenge, which takes one of Kirby's best-loved DC titles and challenges other writers and artists to tell stories in his space -- all while setting up the next team with a cliffhanger that will challenge all their creativity to get out of it.
All along, ComicBook.com has been speaking with writers and artists from the series, asking them the same three questions for a recurring feature on the Kamandi book.
The third question of the three? "How has Jack Kirby influenced you?"
Here are some of the answers we've received so far.
I've always been inspired by Kirby. His genius permeates so much of superhero comics. With this, it was great to be more than inspired. It was an effort to really capture the flavor, the tone, the dynamic urgency. To try and imagine "what wild place would the King have taken this to?" and then see if I could come even close to matching that energy.
"As a comic book artist, and knowing what goes into drawing a page, you realize how insane his compositions, storytelling, and the power of his figures truly are — and how RIDICULOUSLY productive he was! I don't understand how he did it! His designs are nothing short of awe-inspiring. And so iconic! The fact of the matter is that two-thirds of superhero comics (and now movies) out there right now would probably not exist without Kirby's visual genius."
"I'm a huge Kirby enthusiast; I can't think of a way I haven't been inspired by him in one way or another. Of course, I've picked up other influences but if I have to name the number one influence on me, it was Jack Kirby. It was kind of fun to play around with a character that was so uniquely his.
"When I first started reading comics, I really liked Gene Colan, but once I discovered Jack, that was it. From then, up until this day.
"I don't own any comic books -- I don't own a single thing I've ever done. But I've got those Jack Kirby books in my studio, and those are the only books I have: books of Kirby's art. You could say I'm a huge fan."
"Jack Kirby inspired me in any number of ways. The sense of imagination and wonder he brought to his work is still the industry's gold standard. Beyond that, he was a gentle, dignified and kind human being. He really let his work do his talking for him and that was more than enough."
"King's endless creativity is the first thing that comes to mind, and his use of it in the face of real-life harrowing evil. Here is a man that was on the beaches, facing down fascism and hate, and didn't let what he saw weigh him down. It pushed him to create even more heroes for us, to remind us to be more than we are. King was a fount of ideas, of drive, that I hope I could even barely resemble, if I'm lucky."
Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner
"I grew up with The Fantastic Four. I was the guy who had Fantastic Four #1 and I think till #150, which is John Buscemi after Jack," Palmiotti told ComicBook.com. "I bought everything he did, as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, everything I could find at at the newsstand. And then when he started doing Mr. Miracle and Kamandi and Forever People, I bought all of that stuff. He's one of those guys: I loved his art but I could never draw like him. You can't imitate him, you can try."
"I tried!" Conner agreed enthusiastically. "I tried to actually ape him for an issue of [Marvel Knights Black Panther] and you would think it's easy but it's so not. He has so much energy in his work, and I'm always trying to get that energy in my work, and it's so difficult. He's amazing."
"It's funny: as a kid, my friends used to laugh and say 'That guy, he can't draw this and he can't draw that.' And I'd say 'Yeah he can; he can draw anything,'" Palmiotti recalled. "As you get older you start to realize that art is stylized. Jack had this style that was just POWER. And sure maybe the hands weren't exactly this, and he had his unusual way of drawing women, but it was his, and I was a fan of anyone who owned his work in the industry. Jack Kirby, Barry Smith, Bernie Wrightson, growing up Gil Kane, Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, these were the greats for me. Even though they were doing the same characters, they looked nothing alike, and Jack was the pure energy. You just associate things with Jack, like Kirby crackle, you know? So getting to work on one of his creations was super exciting for the both of us. We're both fans, and hopefully the fans like what we did. Jack is the King of Comics. He earned that title, you know? There was no king after him."
"Like a lot of artists from my generation, I was attracted mainly to the flashy elements of comic book art! Back then, what's more important to me was how many lines per square inch I can put down, and totally ignored the subtleties and craft of good comics storytelling. It was not until later on that I fully appreciate, and still continue to learn now, from Mr Kirby's works. It was beyond just making pretty visuals, it was energy, emotions and creativity that fuels his works! And as I finally understand that, I am still in the process of learning how to give what he gives his audience."
Peter J. Tomasi
"I think depending when you grew up Kirby's influence was going to be huge - which for me it was," Tomasi told ComicBook.com."The Demon, OMAC, New Gods, Kamandi, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor -- Jack's kinetic approach to visual storytelling left its stamp from the first moment you see it. An immediate change in your Comics DNA without a doubt."
"[I have been influenced] indirectly by everything he's done. He's a creator of vast worlds and characters of high drama. To emulate Kirby is to set aside your shame and timidity. Go big. Make bold statements, and then don't undermine those statements by trying to explain too much. Too much explanation actually robs a story of power. Kirby seemed to know that all along. It took me thirty years in the business to learn the same lessons.
"In a more direct way, I was privileged to have two conversations with Jack before he died. He was mannered and encouraging, and offered this advice: "If you want to be like me, create your own stuff. If you want to honor me, create your own stuff." I hope Fables (and a few other things) fit the bill, Jack."prevnext
It was January, 1992, Image had yet to be announced to the world (that would happen on February 1) and I get a call from Todd McFarlane.
Todd asks, "You know Jack Kirby, right?"
"Yeah, not well, but, yes."
"Do you have his phone number? Will he accept a call from you?"
"Great, here's what I want you to ask him, you know how every Marvel comic has "Stan Lee presents"? I want every Image comic to say 'Jack Kirby presents.'"
"Uh, Todd, we can't do that.If you want, I'll tell him what we're doing, but we can't ask if we can put his name on our books."
So, I call up the Kirby house and Roz answered the phone, "Hello, Roz, this is Jim Valentino." "Hello, Jim, how are you?"
"I'm fine. Listen, this hasn't been made public yet, but we would like you and Jack to know what a group of us are going to do."
And, with that, I explained Image to her, who was involved and what we wanted to do (break away from Marvel, start a company that would allow creators full ownership of their properties where they, and not a corporation would benefit from their creations). When I was finished, she asked me to hang on--Jack was working and she wanted to tell him.
She came back a few minutes later, pretty choked up and told me that we had hers and Jack's full support, she told me that Jack thought what we were doing was wonderful and ended the phone call with a teary "God bless you boys."
From that moment on, any time she mentioned us she called us "The Image boys." It remains a source of pride to this very day and will for the rest of my life.prevnext
The word genius is one that's often overused, and cheapened by that overuse, but if the comic book business has ever produced a genius, Jack Kirby was it. A genius who taught me that keeping my eyes wide, focused both on the limitless heavens and the infinite universes within the human heart, is the surest way to creating stories that matter.
What the hell's the big deal? Seriously. Why do people venerate this one guy above others? I mean, GEEZ… *Gets out dog-eared copy of Fantastic Four #81, thumbs through* …damn…. this guy was amazing…
So much of Jack Kirby's work dealt with gods walking among us: heroes like Thor and Orion, villains like Darkseid and Galactus, and so many, many others. The gods walked among us, displaying stunning powers and abilities far beyond those of normal men. We were allow to glimpse a world beyond our paltry imaginations, and we mere mortals could only gape at the sheer power and majesty of it.
Ultimately, the true god who walked among us was Kirby himself. There was never anyone like him before. There was never anyone like him after. There will never be another like him. Jack Kirby was singular, a force unto himself, and a fountain of imagination and creativity unparalleled ... well, ever. How could all that come from the mind and right hand of one man? I have lived with Jack Kirby on my shelves and piled on my desk for every day of my career, and I'm still stunned at the breadth and depth of what he willed into existence. Kirby was our oracle, delivering secrets from a universe of his devising. It's his language we speak in comics now.
Superlatives are flimsy things when trying to encompass Jack Kirby. "Genius" is too meager a word to describe the man. He was, and is, the best of us who attempt to tell stories with word and pictures. Everyone in comics today stands on his shoulders and in his shadow.
As a ten year old, I was a huge Marvel fan, and Thor was a favorite of mine. I pretty much refused to read DC Comics, outside of Captain Action, based on my favorite toy. A few years later, when Jack Kirby left Marvel, I found an interesting looking Jimmy Olsen comic on the drugstore spinner rack, with a blurb indicating that Kirby was now at DC!
My mind was blown. I never ever bought a Jimmy Olsen comic before, but I was enthralled! I voraciously read all the Fourth World stuff, The Demon, Kamandi, and everything else Jack touched. When he went back to Marvel in the mid 1970's, I followed him there again, though I was pretty sad to see his DC titles end without him.
In the 1980's when I broke into comics, I was thrilled to meet both Jack, and his wife Roz. It was a crazy thing, something I never imagined as a ten year old. In the 90's, I got to ink a few Kirby pages for an Image jam inking job on Phantom Force, a comic intended to put some Image Comics money into Jack's pocket! We all inked it without payment, which was our way of paying him back for his amazing body of inspiring work.
TwoMorrows has done a terrific job of keeping Kirby alive in the years since his death, and now, finally, the public at large finally knows how important his contributions were to pop culture. That makes me super-happy, to see his name in Marvel Comics films and publishing, as a co-architect of a universe! Happy birthday, Jack Kirby!
The impact of Jack Kirby's creative contributions, not only on American comic books but on popular culture in general, is impossible to quantify.
The sheer volume of fantastic characters and concepts that he produced over the course of an enviably long career is simply staggering to contemplate, and I don't think it's an overstatement to say that it is impossible to imagine what comic books and popular culture would be like today had he not been there to help lay the foundation. We are all of us living and working in the house that Jack built…
When I first got into comics in 1982, Kirby wasn't regularly working for the Big 2, and I didn't have much access to back issues. I became familiar with his name as I built up my collection, but I didn't really 'get' what he'd done for comics, or what he'd created.
In 1985 or so, I was on a car trip with my family to Chicago. I was 8 years old. We stopped at a gas station outside Waunakee, Wisconsin, and I went to the magazine racks to find some comics to read for the remainder of the trip. The only comics they had was a run of Captain Victory from Pacific Comics...as if it was someone's collection or something. I'd never heard of it, but any comic was better than no comic, so I got my mom to buy them for me.
The remainder of the 2 hour trip to my aunt's house was spent going over and over those pages, as well as reading the text pieces in the back of the book which provided context...this was the dude who made up The Fantastic Four and Thor, and this was his own crazy-ass thing. I became a fan for life.
I discovered Jack Kirby's work multiple times before I knew his name. The very first time was in the 1966 Captain America cartoon. As limited as the animation was, it was rocket fuel for a little boy's imagination.
The second time was in a pocket-sized, hardcover series made for kids, called Big Little Books. One of these featured the Fantastic Four. This wasn't another children's book of talking animals. Here was a family, with amazing powers, who were in danger but also caring for and rescuing each other. Within a year I discovered that the newsstands had Fantastic Four comics and the name of the man drawing it was, as the credits put it, Jack (the King) Kirby. There was something, undefinable at the time, about his work; the characters were stronger, faster, hit harder, and felt more deeply. An image of what bold, dynamic superheroes looked like was forming in my mind, and that image was Kirby's.
Years later I met him, shortly after landing my first job at DC Comics. It was a very "come full circle" moment. He was the first artist to attract me to comics. In a real sense I'm a comic artist because of Jack Kirby.
I have a confession to make about Superman.
This may seem shocking, coming from a guy who drew the DC comic Superman: The Man of Steel for almost eight years, and whose main claim to fame is being one of the chief architects of The Death of Superman phenomenon of the early 90s— but I never loved the Superman comics I read as a child.
Please let me explain. My introduction to Superman happened the same way most new DC fans come to the comics today— via the TV shows. For me, it was George Reeves' kind, forbearing, avuncular, almost parental portrayal of The Man of Steel that formed my basic understanding of the character. Like a lot of men of my generation, George was a primary male role model— forming, via superhero metaphor, my nascent understanding of what it means to be a good father, a good husband, a good man.
Like most new DC fans today, I sought to find the TV character I loved in the pages of the comic books. But I was gravely disappointed. It seemed like the only Superman comics I could ever get my hands on in the early 1960s were the silliest samples of Silver Age sarcasm.
Aside from all the dumb gimmicks, like Red Kryptonite, Bizarro World, ant-head Superman, lion-head Superman, rainbow hands Superman or the seemingly dozens of times Superman got extremely fat for some reason—all of which have a certain amount of charm as Superman parody from a generation of creators who couldn't take him seriously—the Mort Weisinger era was marked primarily by stories whose subtext was the suppression of, and problems with leading a secret life. It seemed, from virtually every Superman comic I saw as a child. that Superman's prime focus and purpose was to trick, deceive, and make fools of the people closest to him for daring to suspect his secret identity.
Let alone what this might imply about the overwhelming secrets harbored by Mort and his cronies in an age of repression, their portrayal of Superman bore little resemblance to the gentle paragon I knew from TV. I was very young, and I took that stuff way more seriously than their perpetrators intended—but those comics disturbed and outraged me.
In 1970, Mort retired from comics, and things started to change for Superman. That change became an explosion in 1971 under DC's new art director, Carmine Infantino—with the arrival of Jack Kirby from Marvel.
Jack wanted one of the Superman books to incorporate into his post-Ragnarok rebirth at DC. Carmine gave him the worst-selling Superman title to turn around.
Before Kirby, Jimmy Olsen had been notable as the utmost silliest of the silly 60s' Superman comics. To the usual Silver Age mix of secret identity trickery and deceit, Mort's era had heaped on all sorts of zany body dysmorphia and cross-dressing themes. I hope that stuff was helpful to some marginalized kids in those days—but at the time I disregarded it completely, because it never portrayed the Superman of my imagination. No comic did, until Jack wrote and drew Jimmy Olsen #133, and my childhood was redeemed!
Many people have written of the power and majesty Jack brought to the character. His take became a major influence on John Byrne's 1986 redesign and informed everything we did with the character in my era. But it wasn't the fact that Superman finally looked super in a comic book—or even that his universe suddenly expanded from the cardboard office backdrop of Metropolis in the 50s and 60s, into a real city with character and grit, on the cusp of a cosmic battlefield. What made me cheer was that Jack's Superman behaved like the Superman of my imagination. He was powerful and majestic, as one expects from Kirby—but he was also strong of heart, kind and reassuring, the way George had been on TV.
It didn't even bother me all that much that Carmine had covered up Jack's faces with jarringly "on model" versions by Murphy Anderson, et al. I disagreed with the policy, but compared to the greater outrage I'd felt about Superman in the comics all my young life, it seemed like small potatoes. I could understand why Carmine did it. He was edifying the brand. I got it, even then—but I couldn't suppress the wish to peel off the fake faces and see what Jack drew.
In any case, Jack's exquisite storytelling made up for the absence of faces. Kirby characters emote with every line and gesture. Their acting surpasses even the masking of a character's face. Jack Kirby is very much an abstract expressionist artist.
I was also thrilled by how the star of Action Comics finally displayed actual action when Jack drew him. Look, I have great fondness for Curt Swan, Wayne Boring and (especially) Al Plastino. Those Silver Age Superman artists drew a comforting and familiar Superman that offset (or sometimes highlighted) the bizarreness of those goofy stories— but they were never very dynamic.
It wasn't until I finally saw the work of Superman's original artist and co-creator Joe Shuster—sometime after I saw Jack's version—that I realized that Jack's exciting, rough-and-tumble, scrappy, action-hero version of Superman was actually a call-back to his creator's original concept. Jack wasn't just reinventing Superman—he was restoring him!
Jack's Superman had more of the fundamental, native appeal of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's original version than anything that had been done with the comics since DC fired Superman's creators in 1948. The 1940s reprints DC started to include as back-up features in their 1970s Superman titles proved it—as did the Fleischer Superman cartoons I discovered at my first convention in 1972 (past midnight, in a sleepy ballroom at the Americana Hotel—anyone remember those days?). Superman was intended to be more like Jack drew him! He was supposed to be awesome and dynamic! It was an epiphanic revelation, confirming every drawing I'd ever made in my childhood. I'd had it right! Now, Jack had it right, too. Redemption for a hero! Redemption for a child's imagination!
I devoured everything Jack created at DC—which, in turn, galvanized me to stalk and devour his whole Marvel oeuvre, as well. In my early teens—my most formative years as an artist—I was a devoted comics fan, with wide-ranging, even experimental tastes. I studied everything like my life depended on it—but I immersed myself in all things Kirby with manic, voracious zeal. I was more than a student, I was an acolyte.
I love almost everything Jack ever did. I especially love Thor, Captain America, The New Gods, The Forever People, Kamandi, The Demon, and Jack's super-weird, 70s version of Sandman. My favorite Kirby creations were, and continue to be his very personal family action-sitcoms,The Fantastic Four and Mr. Miracle. Jack was a family man, and for me, his best work always centered around the antics and conflicts of characters who love each other—families.
But for all his genius inventions—characters, stories, and the techniques for communicating them—Jack's most keenly appreciated gift to me was the restoration of a character he didn't invent. Those of us who are remembered for having killed Superman in the nineties are also known for resurrecting him—but none of us could have done it without Jack. Jack Kirby resurrected Superman long before we did.prevnext
"Greece has Homer, China has Wu Cheng'en, France has Jules Verne, England has H.G. Wells, but America has Jack Kirby. And I don't think a moment passes that someone in the world isn't touched, entertained, or inspired by one of Jack Kirby's many creations. To top it off Jack was one of the sweetest, kindest, and most generous artists I have ever met."
"Jack Kirby's imagination was unique; his talent boundless, awe-inspiring, and other worldly, with a legendary work ethic to match. There would be no comics industry today without him. (There wouldn't be much of a film industry either at this point either, frankly.) He just seemed to do his thing, though, didn't seem to analyze it too very much, and will forever blow up all of our minds. I'm no Kirby expert, but that means I get to discover works that are new to me, and that's incredibly exciting. Though he would've been 100 on August 28 of this year, he's immortal. Hail to the KING!"
Adam P. Knave
There are many shoulders all of us comic creators stand on. The widest, though, may be Jack Kirby's. He invented worlds and mythologies that we struggle to out-do today. Above it all though, he didn't want to be copied. He didn't want there to be someone trying to be the next Kirby. He wanted us all to try and be ourselves, as hard as possible. That's what he did, after all.
He pushed love, and freedom above all and that's why I got this tattoo on my birthday, in time for his 100th - to always push harder and to swim deeply in my imagination.
Jack Kirby merged the primal with the lofty and symbolic, the cosmic, mythical and metaphysical with the gravity of philosophical realism.
As a writer, creator, artist in a range of media, he revolutionized an industry, created a grammar and philosophy for a medium, and even created multiple genres within it.
As a world builder and visionary, he was also a patriot and citizen who served his country overseas in the field and behind the scenes.
And in the the minds of all who encounter his work.prevnext
I think without Kirby, there is no superhero pop culture revolution. He, along with Stan Lee, really invented the modern day superhero mythology that we all love.
With his work, primarily at Marvel, but also his work at DC, it really showed what can be accomplished when one is solely reliant upon one's creativity and imagination. If you notice it took literally decades, almost half a century, for people to figure out the technology to make his vision come to life. And it was only then that people really saw how. It was then, I think, that the wider audience realized what a genius he was and how impactful his imagery was to pop culture.
I met Jack Kirby for the first time at my very first Comic-Con, which was San Diego Comic-Con 1987. It was my first year going there as a pro and it was very small, at the time. He was always an outsider, somehow I wrangled an invitation to a surprise birthday party, early birthday party for Jack.
It was in the basement of the hotel on Broadway. I want to say it was the Grant Hotel. But anyway, Frank Miller was there, Steve Rude was there, and then Jack Kirby made his entrance. He was literally just standing in the middle of the room talking to whoever came up to him. I saw an opening, I went up and introduced myself. I told him how much I loved his work and how much it meant to me. He was super gracious and as kind as one could be. From that day on, I realized, this is my role model. This is the guy that has accomplished so much but remains humble and approachable through it all. He made such a huge impression on me as a first year professional in the business.
When I was a kid, I was not a huge Jack Kirby fan. I was more of a Neal Adams, you know, pseudo-realism kind of art lover and it wasn't until I grew older and learned more about the craft and about drawing that I was finally able to understand what Jack was doing.
That's when I started incorporating the elements that he had really innovated, you know, the powerful stances, the brilliant placement of shadows, the bold black lines to convey action and intensity. And particularly the way he would compose characters in a frame battling one another so that neither one looked like they had the upper hand, but that they were boxed in an epic duel to the end. He was the master of producing those kind of shots, numerous times in every book. Wasn't again until I was a professional that I understood and saw the brilliance of his work. From that moment on, I was always trying to incorporate what I see was the cornerstones of his style, which is dynamism, power, and vision.prevnext
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 everyone of the magnitude of Jack's influence we represent for him and we direct others towards his brilliant comic catalogue.
What can you say about Jack Kirby's comics work that hasn't been said before? He was as prolific as any creator that ever picked up a pencil, he was as imaginative as the next ten best creators combined. He produced up to three monthly titles a month, while never compromising the quality of his illustrative efforts. His storytelling and layouts are as good as any you will ever encounter. The blocking and staging of individual panels on any given Kirby page are simply perfect. He always picked the right shot, his characters gestures were as subtle or as powerful as necessary given the mood he depicted or that action he portrayed. No one threw a punch like a Kirby character. No one made an entrance as impressive as a Kirby character. His women were gorgeous and fierce, seriously, his females are not nearly as celebrated as they should be, and his men were handsome and strong. His creatures were spectacular. Groot, anyone? Lockjaw? GALACTUS?
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!prevnext
The Only Living Boy...
David Gallaher and Steve Ellis currently create the series The Only Living Boy for Papercutz, a book that gets compared to Kamandi pretty much every time it's written about in the comics press.
(That ain't a bad thing, by the way.)
The pair shared some thoughts on Kirby's influence and work with us for our tribute, and Gallaher said more over at SYFY Wire.
As a comic reader, the first thing the put Kirby's work on a whole other level for me was the sheer momentum and energy that crashed off every page. Sure, there were other artists who may have been more proficient draftsmen, but the driving energy behind Kirby's work made it stand above the rest.
The second thing, and this took me a little longer to figure out, was his incredible sense of design. Jack's characters, costumes and machines were unlike anything else we could conceive of. The shapes, sizes, patterns, the bold use of black and white and line-weight were beyond a simple recreation of natural reality, they created their own reality, a world in which you suspended your disbelief and were brought through the world on it's terms.
In the generations that have followed, few artist have even come close to his bombastic inventiveness. His work still challenges me and dares me to push past my own comfort zones and explore new frontiers of imagination.
Kirby's legacy is indelible. Not only did he have the power to command heroes and gods…he had the rare gift of being able to make them and mold them.
I don't think there are enough words in the English language to describe what a tremendous honor it was following in the footsteps of Jack Kirby. I think there are even fewer words to describe the tremendous power that he brought to every story. Kirby's creatures towered over the horizon, his leading ladies delivered amnesia with every kiss, his villains were grotesque…and his heroes were majestic beings who fought ancient uprisings, alien worlds, post-apocalyptic futures with a stride in their step, a smirk in their smile, and adventure in their heart.
There's something immortal about that.prevnext
My very first comic book convention was ChicagoCon around 1983-84. I was sent there by Westfield Comics. I wasn't in the comic book business yet, that didn't come until 1987, I was there as a reader/collector and fan.
Westfield Comics sent me there to do an article for them on what it was like to experience a major comic book convention for the first time and report my findings back to the other fans, readers and collectors of Westfield Comics.
It was a parade of "Firsts". It was the first time I had flown, my first convention, I bought my very first Golden Age comic book (The Black Terror) and also the first time I met Jack Kirby.
That's right, Jack Kirby.
I was on the shuttle bus from the airport to the convention hotel in Rosemont, IL. Sitting across from me in the bus was Jack Kirby and his wife, Roz. I knew it was Jack Kirby from the few photos in Marvel Comics that had been published through the years, trust me, fandom was not the same then as is now with the internet. Back then, there was none of that. A long distance phone call was a big deal back then.
I've always been a "I have nothing to lose" kinda guy, probably because I've never had much to lose…that always makes it easier. I introduced myself. Jack introduced himself and his wife, Roz. He asked me if I was attending the convention, I told him I was and how it was my first one, as well as first time flying and getting to be with a bunch of people that liked comic books as much as I did. Jack smiled.
He and Roz, like great eagles, took me under their wing right then. They told me what to expect, what it was like, about panels, and all the back issues and meeting folks that write and draw comic books. The peppered me with questions about…Me. What did I do for a living, was I married, did I have kids, what was my favorite comics, how long had I been reading them? That was just scratching the surface of their questions. They made me feel so at home. Any nervous feelings I had about traveling and going to a big convention melted away like butch wax on a crew cut.
The told me about their family, about what they had planned for the convention, and what it was like for him to be working in comics and doing what he loved to do. One of the best things that happened was when Jack asked me if I wrote or could draw, I told him that I couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler, but I wrote…a lot…ever since I was a kid. I told him I'd always felt like I had to write, that I needed to write, to create…That there was never a time that stuff wasn't in my head. He looked at me, smiled and said "I feel the same way, Beau…Always have, still do." That almost made my head explode to think, Jack Kirby knew what it was like to be inside my head, because it was the same as in his. (Only MUCH better I'm sure.)
The shuttle bus pulled up to the hotel, I offered to help them with their bags, Jack smiled and said "Sure! Carry this, it's got my art in it." He handed me his portfolio. It DID have his art in it. I felt like I was carrying "The Black Box", "The Football", The case with the Nuclear Codes that could call down Armageddon for The President. Needless to say, I carried with the same respect.
We got to the check in counter and without missing a beat, Jack told the clerk that I was his friend, Beau Smith, and this was my first time here at the convention and wanted to make sure I got checked in and taken care of. Of course the clerk did so, after all, this was Jack Kirby! (And their job, but Jack made it seem so much more important.)
The bell hop took my luggage to my room and their's to what I figured must be the penthouse, after all, he was Jack Kirby! Jack told me to come with him and he would get us our proper paperwork, badges and such for the convention. How could I refuse? We went downstairs to where the convention was being held, along the way, everyone stopped Jack and spoke to him, asked for his autograph, or to sign a comic book, (Mostly in ball point pen, not a sharpie.) Each time, Jack would introduce me as his "Friend" and tell them that I was a writer, and soon they'd be asking me to sign my comic books. I couldn't say a thing, Jack would say this, look at me, smile and wink. I could see he was saying, "Roll with my flow, kid."
We got to the table and everyone that worked the convention treated Jack as he was—The King. Once again, Jack introduced me to everyone as his friend, and I, for those fleeting moments, was treated like a Prince, or a Duke, or some form of the King's court. It was beyond addictive.
They didn't have a badge for me, they had a pass, set up by Westfield Comics, but Jack insisted, friendly like, that I needed a badge like his, he told them I was a writer. It was done quickly. Jack smiled as he saw me with my badge on. I felt like I was knighted by The King…I guess in a way, I had been. At least I sure felt that way.
Jack introduced me to a few more people, and always as "My friend, Beau Smith, The Writer." I felt like I was caught up in a powerful tornado, I did as Jack said, I rolled with his flow.
Like a true gentleman, Jack told me that he had to meet Roz up in the room and get ready to go meet some people for dinner. He took a piece of paper and wrote down a time and a room number, he told me that he was doing a panel the next day and asked me if I'd come, he said he thought I would enjoy it. I said I'd be there!
The next day I was there at his panel, It was all Jack and it was all great. He told stories about creating characters, about working in the business from the start, through Marvel in the 60's to his current works. He then took questions from the audience. I was dying to ask him a question, one that I had always dreamed about asking him, but never thought the opportunity would arise. I had forgotten to ask yesterday for a couple of reasons, one, I was just so mesmerized with talking to him and not babbling, and the other, I didn't wanna seem like some weirdo with a weirder question. Well, after listening to the other questions the other folks in the crowd were asking him, I thought my question almost seemed sane. Almost…
I raised my hand, Jack pointed at me, I stood up and before I could ask, Jack said, "Ah, my buddy, Beau, The Writer!"
That was like someone jamming a log between my ankles in a dead sprint. I stammered and knew I was a color red that no four color comic could ever hope to duplicate. Even so, I got my question out. "Of all the characters you created or drawn, which one is most like you?"
In my head I thought for sure he was gonna say Sgt. Fury. I was wrong.
Without hesitation, he said "The Thing. Ben Grimm."
He then went on about how they were alike, and it all fell together like a 500 piece puzzle that only one man could put together—Jack Kirby.
After that, every time I read a word balloon from the mouth of Ben Grimm, I head the voice of Jack Kirby. I still do.
Jack Kirby gave me many gifts that weekend, his time, his attention, his respect, but the greatest gift of all was his friendship.
That is priceless.
Happy Birthday, My friend, Happy Birthday, Jack Kirby!prevnext
The outside world
Kirby's influence originated in comics, but has expanded well beyond that. There are a fair number of people who have never worked in comics, or who are best known for their work outside of it ain any event, and who still consider Kirby one of their major influences, if not the singular most important one.
"Jack was a one-man comics industry. He possessed a seemingly-endless capacity for generating world-shattering concepts and characters. For as much as he's properly regarded as an artistic genius, he was also a tireless story engine."0comments
Kyle Stephens (The Kirby Krackle)
"Jack Kirby's work has not only influenced artists and storytellers around the world, but also musicians. I can only hope that my songs have even a splash of his vivid motion, color, and astounding creativity he left us to feast on forever. "prev