It’s Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday today.
I’m not going to go into how Marvel and now Disney have shafted Kirby and his family out of his rights, his credits and his place in cultural history (let alone comics history), and you would be amazed if you don’t know who Kirby is just how much of modern culture owes to the man. That’s not for today. There’s better articles about the man and his life out there.
This is a celebration of his brilliance on what would be his 96th birthday, but before I go on I’ll make a confession; I didn’t like Kirby for long periods of my life. The first time I remember of seeing anything by Kirby that I remember was the reprinted strips in Mighty World of Marvel #1.
That made me go to my brothers collections of comics to look at those American imports which were a pain to get back in the early 70’s in the UK. When I read those I discovered just how brilliant Kirby was, but I prefered his work in black and white (which the British Marvel reprints were) to the gaudy colour versions of the originals.
It was Kirby’s portrayal of the Thing that I adored as a kid, and I still do.
That page is simply one of the greatest splash pages of any superhero comic printed at any time. It’s an astonishingly powerful page that tells you a story without Stan Lee’s flowery doggerel getting in the way.
Then there’s Galactus, Kirby’s version of God.
And of course there was the inspiration for Darth Vader, Doctor Doom.
I don’t think Kirby put a foot wrong at Marvel. His work ranges from good to flawless, and let me say that Kirby’s ‘good’ at this point was superior to 95% of other artists of the time.
I remember vaguely as a kid when Kirby left Marvel this was a huge thing, but I was too young to appreciate this, but I do remember reading New Gods as a kid and not liking it at all. That changed in the 80’s when I was old enough to get what Kirby was doing in creating this vastly epic story of good versus evil, and villainy versus heroism.
The issue that summed up Kirby’s working class hero winning against all odds philosophy in New Gods #8.
It’s a spectacular issue and probably my single favourite Jack Kirby comic I’ve ever read. The copy I used to have fell apart because I read it so much from around 18 to around 30 whenever I needed a boost. Then I stupidly sold it. I bloody wish I hadn’t. New Gods was, and is magnificent.
After Kirby left DC in the 70’s he returned to Marvel to do work which was perhaps some of his best, even if it didn’t make people leap up in a frenzy. His adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey is amazing.
His other Marvel work of the time is odd, but there’s a part of my heart which is forever Devil Dinosaur.
Then in the 80’s I fell out of love with Kirby’s work. It wasn’t the best work he did. It wasn’t as bad as I thought though, nor did it deserve the contempt many fans threw at it at the time as frankly Kirby had done enough to carve his name in history but I was stupid and learned my lesson. Kirby was and is a genius. There is nobody in mainstream superhero comics who has ever been like him nor will there ever be, which isn’t saying there’s a lot of poor creators out there as there isn’t but it’s saying that Kirby is so far ahead of everyone that he deserves a massive celebration of his work and life.
Do take time to look at his granddaughter Jillian’s Kirby4Heroes Facebook page. It’s an amazing look at the man and his family that anyone who’s ever read a Kirby comic should look at and support.
So happy birthday Jack. You deserve all the praise in the world.