Jacob Kurtzberg, better known to the world as Jack “King” Kirby, was born 100 years ago today.
While Jack left us in 1994, the unparalleled nature of his genius lives on and continues to inspire new generations of comics fans and creators, both in the comics he created, and in the adaptations of this creations in other media.
When comic book people, like me, talk about Kirby, we tend to do so in seemingly hyperbolic terms. There’s a reason for that; even the hyperbole can’t really do him justice.
Kirby’s influence on comics – and beyond comics – is immeasurable, and it’s impossible to overstate his contribution to the medium, both directly in his own work, and indirectly in the work of the countless creators he inspired and influenced.
“Genius” isn’t a good enough or strong enough word.
“Deity” comes close – and, indeed, some of those creators he inspired have cast Kirby in that role in their own work – but doesn’t quite cut it.
And so we settle for King.
If it had been just a matter of the work, there would be reason enough to venerate him. But Kirby was more than just a brilliant creator of comics. He was a husband and a father, of course, a veteran who fought in World War II, the son of immigrants who in so many ways proved the promise that America has, traditionally, represented. He was open and approachable, and served as a mentor who sought to nurture the talents of others.
I never had the chance to meet him, but I have been blessed with the opportunity to enjoy so much of the immense body of work he left behind, and what has been built by those who came after on the foundations he laid.
Looking at other media, it’s difficult to find an analog to Kirby. In popular music? Maybe The Beatles, but that’s not quite right. In film? I’m not sure that I could hazard a guess.
In any case, without Kirby, comics would not be what they are today, nor would the larger popular culture that draws from what Kirby, well, drew. (And wrote; that part should never be overlooked, even though the dynamism and pure excitement of his drawing is what catches the eye.)
I haven’t provided a lengthy list of the specific works Kirby is responsible – the Avengers, the Hulk, Thor, the New Gods, to name only a few – because it’s almost impossible to do so in full, particularly when considering how much his influence and impact extended beyond what he, personally, worked on.
Mark Evanier, who worked for and with Kirby, and called him friend, has much more to say on the subject, so I’ll leave the rest up to him.
Happy birthday, King.
And thank you.