It’s Jack Kirby’s world. We’re all just living in it.
X-Men. The Fantastic Four. The Helicarrier. Silver Surfer. LMDs. At DC, the New Gods, including Darseid, Mister Miracle, and Big Barda.
All co-created by Jack “King” Kirby. All brought to incredible visual life by the King. It’s a tragedy that Kirby, who died in 1994, didn’t live to see the impact of his work and that he is the lesser known of the creative team of Stan Lee/Jack Kirby. Kirby didn’t reap any of the massive financial rewards from his creations, beyond his work-for-hire salary, which led to lawsuits against Marvel Entertainment. While Lee himself has given full credit to Kirby as co-creator in their partnership, Lee’s charm, salesmanship, and longevity has led to him being the human face of Marvel to those outside the comic world.
But inside the comic world, “King” is not an ironic title.
It’s a statement of fact.
Kirby’s art wasn’t based on realism, but on perspective and a sense of wonder. Through his work, what seemed impossible became possible.
Kirby was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on August 28, 1917 as Jacob Kurtzberg. His upbringing is reflected in many of his stories, from the Thing’s Yancy Street Gang to the Newsboy Legion that he created for DC in the pages of the Jimmy Olson comic.
His first partnership was with Joe Simon, with whom he created Captain America. According to a biography at the Kirby Museum online, Kirby and Simon quickly became well-known. Disenchanted with how Timely Comics failed to share the many rewards reaped for the success of Cap, they eventually founded their own company.
Sadly, not receiving his fair share was a problem that would continue throughout Kirby’s career. He didn’t profit from the success of his Marvel creations—not the toys, not the movies, not the television shows. There is a long-running legal battle over the copyright of Kirby’s work with Marvel, though one that Kirby’s heirs seem to be losing.
Though Stan Lee is remembered as Kirby’s most prolific co-creator, Joe Simon and Kirby had a partnership that lasted over twenty years, beginning in 1940, albeit one that was interrupted by World War II. Kirby served with the U.S. Army in Europe.
It wasn’t until 1961 that Lee and Kirby co-created the Fantastic Four for Marvel and thereafter, Kirby established Marvel’s house style, meaning he set the tone and design for the art across the entire line, even if he wasn’t the actual artist.
In 1970, Kirby quit Marvel, reportedly over contract issues. He moved over to DC Comics and continued to be creative. That’s when he created the New Gods, Darkseid, Kamandi, the last boy on earth, the Demon, the Losers, and, of course, Big Barda, and Mister Miracle. Kirby came back to Marvel later in the 1970s and created the Eternals, a property that Neil Gaiman updated in 2006.
I’m convinced that if he just lived a decade longer, lived long enough for the rise of conventions and the internet, lived long enough to interact more with those whose work he’d touched, Kirby would be as much a cultural icon as Stan Lee.
But we, the ones he continues to entertain, can still honor him by remembering him.