Four Comic Creators Talk Jack Kirby On His Birthday

Legendary comics creator Jack Kirby would have been 97 today if he were still alive, and for some [...]

Legendary comics creator Jack Kirby would have been 97 today if he were still alive, and for some in the comics community, "The King's" birthday is something of a holiday. 

Kirby was the artist and co-creator on nearly all of Stan Lee's Marvel work in the '60s, lending his voice and distinctive look to characters like Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers and the X-Men. He's also responsible for a number of individual creations at both Marvel and DC, most notably the Fourth World concepts that have shaped the more fantastical side of the DC Universe (and of course will be reinvented for the upcoming Godhead crossover in the Green Lantern books).

With his birthday trending on Twitter and a number of events going on sponsored by Kirby4Heroes and the Hero Initiative, we sent out a mailer to a number of comics professionals, asking them if they'd like to talk about what Kirby means to them.

Here are the first four responses we got back; we'll update throughout the day if we get more answers.

J.M. DeMatteis (Justice League 3000)

Kirby's work with Joe Simon in the 40's and 50's broke barriers and expanded the limits of the form. At Marvel, in the 60's, Jack and Stan Lee took mainstream comics and turned them inside out, upside down and created an entertainment empire that's been making other people rich for decades. At DC in the following decade Jack crafted his most personal—and, for my money, most brilliant—work. The Fourth World books opened new doors, set new standards, did things that comics had never dared to do before. Kirby raced ahead of everyone and we're all still trying to catch up.

If there's anyone in the history of the medium that could legitimately be called a genius, it's Jack Kirby: he was, quite simply, the best.

Adam P. Knave (Amelia Cole)

Jack Kirby didn't invent comics. Of course he didn't. He didn't even invent American comics. But he sure as hell came close to perfecting them. I grew up reading Kirby comics, even though I was too young to have been born at the right time. My dad read them and reading his copies of old Marvel comics were my entry point into the medium. Every page a revelation, every issue so much larger than life. When I got to the 4th World books my brain exploded. Kirby showed me comics could be anything, they could go anywhere and tell any story. As a reader each issue became a challenge to me: Could my imagination keep up with his? Could the images my head create match what he would put on the page? Every Kirby book I read then, and still today, throws that gauntlet, daring me to keep me and I adore every second of it.

As I became a comic creator, though, Kirby became even more important to me. I never wanted to one-up Kirby. I wanted to do what he did - always push further. To invent the new thing, to excite myself and my readers. To never stop creating and exploring. That feeling, that drive, never leaves me and it's because there is a kid inside me still flipping through pages, eyes wide, drinking in the joy and power he let fly into the world.

Michael Lapinski (Feeding Ground)

There are volumes that can and have been said about Jack Kirby, a man who forged 20th century epic mythology and the visual language of superhero comics from a superhuman work ethic and blue collar sensibility. My own personal come to Kirby moment happened during a comic art class with Klaus Janson at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. Then and now, I'm very much a novice comic artist and student of the artform. From the bones out, it was a crash course in dissecting what animated the pages of the medium I enjoyed for so long as a fan. Panel composition, page composition, leading the eye of the reader across, down, and out of the page. That much I felt I got a handle on. And then there's Kirby.

Beyond evoking mere spatial perspective on a flat page, his panels are deep stages that rocket the readers' gaze in and out of the 4th wall like a paddle ball in a 3-D movie. Even as his art dazzles with Rococo detail ornamenting Baroque battles, I felt as if I was finally seeing the man in the foundational structure of his art. Here, I found a world that was bigger than the page. And, it's the reason that, no matter how advanced our special effects have become, our celluloid heroes will always feel so much smaller than what Kirby conjured from graphite and ink.

Long live the King.

Ron Marz (Witchblade)

Jack Kirby, more than any other creator, expresses the unfettered imagination of comics. Comics have always been about the ability to tell any story, to show anything your mind can conjure, no matter how fantastic. That's also the best description I can think of for Jack Kirby. Every time you read one of Jack's comic, there's a sense of 'I'm going to show you something you've never seen before.' That's what Jack taught us: there are no limits, nothing is impossible.