Jack Kirby (28 August 1917 – 6 February 1994, USA)
was one of the grandmasters in American comic book art, commonly nicknamed as The King. Born as Jacob Kurtzberg in New York City, he started his career in 1935 as an inbetweener on ‘Popeye’ and ‘Betty Boop’ cartoons for Max Fleischer’s animation studio. He moved to the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate in 1936, where he produced short-lived newspaper strips like ‘Black Buccaneer’, ‘Detective Riley’, Cyclone Burke’, ‘Abdul Jones’ and ‘Socko the Seadog,’ which he signed with Jack Curtiss. In 1939, he briefly joined the famous Eisner-Iger comic shop. During this period, he contributed to Jumbo Comics, and drew features like ‘The Lone Rider’, ‘Blue Bolt’ and ‘Blue Beetle’ for companies like Novelty and Fox, using a variety of pseudonyms including Curt Davis, Fred Sande, Ted Grey, Jack Cortez and Charles Nicholas.
With ‘Captain America’, created with his partner Joe Simon for Timely in 1941, Kirby developed his artistic style, and garnered the most fame. The character instantly became an American icon. Kirby drew him as a superhuman and soon Captain America became the country’s morale-boosting anti-Nazi hero. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon collaborated until 1956, working for several publishers, like National and Harvey Comics, where they created all kinds of new titles which became the prototypes for all the ‘kid gang’ comic books to follow. They drew the initial episode of ‘Captain Marvel Adventures’ for Fawcett in 1941, and set up titles like Boy Commandos, Newsboy Legion and Boy’s Ranch.
After the War, Kirby and Simon launched ‘Young Romance’, the first romance title, and explored the fields of crime, horror, wester and humor comics in titles like ‘Fighting American’, ‘Police Trap’, ‘Bullseye’ and ‘In Love’, mostly through Crestwood or their own comic book company Mainline. By 1956, Kirby slowly parted with Simon, cooperating only on ‘The Fly’ and ‘Private Strong’ for Archie Comics. During this time, he also produced a lot of work of National/DC and drew some issues of Classics Illustrated for Gilberton. After working with inker Wallace Wood on ‘Skymasters’ and on ‘Challengers of the Unknown’ for DC, he returned to Timely, now called Marvel, where he heralded in a new era of superhero comics with writer/editor Stan Lee.
Together with Lee, he launched the landmark ‘Fantastic Four’ in 1961, shortly afterwards followed by ‘Thor’ in 1962 and a new rendition of ‘Captain America’ in 1964. Kirby defined Marvel’s house style and set up a great many of the company’s present-day key characters. Other well-known titles he graphically initiated are ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (1962), ‘The X-Men’ (1963), and ‘The Silver Surfer’ (1966).
Kirby, Lee and Marvel rose to the top of the industry and many claim they completely revamped the comic book world. After a disagreement with Lee, Kirby left Marvel in 1970 to return to DC as a writer/editor/artist, where he created nearly a dozen titles, but none were as successful as his Marvel work. Among his creations for DC are ‘The Fourth World’ and its subtitles ‘New Gods’, ‘Mister Miracle’ and ‘The Forever People, as well as ‘Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen’, ‘OMAC’, ‘Kamandi’ and ‘The Demon’. He also joined Joe Simon once again in a new version of ‘The Sandman’.
However, by the mid-1970s, he did new work for Marvel again, including ‘The Eternals’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and the ‘Black Panther’, featuring the first black superhero. In 1979-80, he did an adaptation of the Walt Disney movie ‘The Black Hole’ for the syndicated ‘Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales’ series. He also ventured into animation, doing designs on among others ‘Turbo Teen’ and ‘Thundarr the Barbarian’. In the 1980s Kirby drew ‘Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers’ and ‘Silver Star’ for Pacific Comics, ‘Destroyer Duck’ for Eclipse Comics and ‘Super Powers’ for DC.
In his 50-year career, Jack Kirby produced many of the field’s most successful concepts and has been responsible for more comic book sales than any other artist, writer or editor. Jack Kirby passed away on 6 February 1994.