Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg August 28, 1917) was one of the most influential and respected comic book artists, writers and creators to have worked in the medium.
Growing up poor in New York City, Kurtzberg entered the emerging comics industry in the 1930s. Although he enrolled at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, he only stayed a week and he was largely self-taught and cited as influences a number of illustrators, like Hal Foster, Alex Raymond and Milt Caniff.
Kurtzberg drew various comic strips under different pseudonyms, such as Jack Curtiss and Curt Davis, before settling on Jack Kirby. Through the late 1930s he worked on various newspaper strips before joining Fleischer animation where helped fill scenes between major action sequences in Popeye cartoons, but he didn’t like the factory mindset and left to work in the burgeoning comic books business for a number of companies, including Fox Features, where he met his future partner, Joe Simon, with whom he would create and develop Captain America for Timely Comics in 1941.
After serving in World War II, Kirby returned to comics and, initially reuniting with Simon, contributed to a number of publishers, including Archie Comics and DC Comics, working in a number of genres: crime, romance, science fiction, horror, monster, superhero and western, but perhaps his most acclaimed creation from the pre-Marvel period was the newspaper strip, Sky Masters of the Space Force, inked by Wally Wood.
Kirby wound up at Timely's 1950s version, Atlas Comics, while still working for DC on books like House of Mystery and House of Secrets. When he finally split with DC, he continued to work for Atlas, which later changed its name to Marvel, and, starting with The Fantastic Four in 1961, with writer Stan Lee, he created a number of superhero characters in the early 1960s that led a boom in the industry. Many of Marvel’s key characters were created by Lee and Kirby during the sixties - The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, The Black Panther, The Silver Surfer, The Mighty Thor, The X-Men, The Avengers, Doctor Doom, The Inhumans, Nick Fury, Galactus – and it remans a bone of contention just how much Kirby contributed to their creation and the plots that were initially credited to Lee.
Despite the high sales and critical acclaim of the Lee-Kirby titles, Kirby felt he was being treated unfairly, getting neither enough credit nor money and he left the company in 1970 for rival DC Comics, where he created his critically successful Fourth World saga spread over several titles. However, these and other titles proved commercially unsuccessful and were cancelled, although characters he created and the Fourth World mythos have continued as a significant part of the DC Comics universe.
Kirby’s drawing style, especially for his figures, had always been expressionistic to some extent, but through the late sixties and early seventies, his figure drawing and, occasionally, sense of perspective, became looser, which may have been partially due to eye problems and partially due to the fact that the board used for the original art was considerably reduced in size. Unfortunately, while this was happening, other artists were adopting a more realistic style and to some readers, Kirby’s work looked old fashioned and out of place.
Kirby returned to Marvel briefly in the mid- to late 1970s, creating new characters who still appear in the company’s comics and taking over his own flagship character, Captain America, but his run met with neither critical nor commercial success and he then ventured into television animation and independent comics.
In his later years, Kirby received considerable recognition for his career accomplishments, and is regarded by historians and fans as one of the major innovators and most influential creators in the comic-book medium.
Jack Kirby died in February 6, 1994 his Thousand Oaks, California.
In October 2006, The New York Times noted that Kirby had “created a new grammar of storytelling and a cinematic style of motion. Once-wooden characters cascaded from one frame to another — or even from page to page — threatening to fall right out of the book into the reader’s lap. The force of punches thrown was visibly and explosively evident. Even at rest, a Kirby character pulsed with tension and energy in a way that makes movie versions of the same characters seem static by comparison.”
In the 'Program Notes' for his novel, Carter Beats The Devil, author Glen David Gold says, 'Inspiration came from the unbeatable troika of storytellers: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko [artist and plotter for Spider-Man and Doctor Strange]'.
Michael Chabon, in his afterword to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, noted, 'I want to acknowledge the deep debt I owe in this and everything else I've ever written to the work of the late Jack Kirby, the King of Comics.”
The Comics Journal Library Volume I: Jack Kirby, edited by Milo George (Fantagraphics Books; Seattle, 2002)
The Jack Kirby Treasury Volume II, text by Greg Theakston (Eclipse Books; Forestville, California, n.d.)
Kirby: King of Comics, by Mark Evanier (Abrams; New York, 2008)
The Art of Jack Kirby, by Ray Wyman, jr (The Blue Rose Press; Orange, California, 1992)
The Collected Jack Kirby Collector Volumes I-VII, edited by John Morrow (Two Morrows Publishing; Raleigh, North Carolina, 1997-2009)
Origins of Marvel Comics, by Stan Lee (Simon and Schuster; New York, 1974)
Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, by Stan Lee (Simon and Schuster; New York, 1975)
Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book, by Gerard Jones (Heinemann, 2005)