If there were a Mount Rushmore of comic creators, Jack Kirby’s face would be plastered dead center. Every modern-day comic can be traced back to Jack Kirby in some way. He is responsible for some of the greatest heroes and comic books we have today. Certainly, the MCU and the DCEU would not be the titanic juggernauts they are today without him. Comics would literally not be the same.
Our hero grew up in the big apple, New York City. He was born on August 28, 1917, as Jacob Kutzberg. As a kid, Kirby drew as a form of escapism, and he essentially taught himself the skill. However, he never had a real outlet for his art until he began drawing for the “Boy Brotherhood Republic.”
It was a type of club where all the kids from the street ran their own government and developed their own small town.
He left school at sixteen, but he didn’t immediately jump into comics. Jack first went to the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate working on comic strips for them. After that, he moved on to the famous Fleischer animation studio. Fleischer is, of course, known for cartoons like Betty Boop and Popeye. Kirby worked on both of these series as an inbetweener (someone who fills in the action between major movement scenes).
However, he left Fleischer fairly quickly. He compared it to working in his father’s factory, which was not something he wanted to get stuck in.
The Dynamic DuoJack got a job at the Fox Feature Syndicate who acted as a newspaper syndicator and comic-book publisher. During his early days there, he first began to experiment with superheroes. He and two other comic creators, Chuck Cuidera and Chuck Wojtoski, created the pseudonym, Charles Nicholas.
Then, under this pseudonym, they wrote and drew the character Blue Beetle, who would become a staple comic character and still exists to this day. Soon after the success of Blue Beetle, Jack Kirby met an editor for Fox Feature named Joe Simon. They hit it off, and they agreed they would work together on a freelance contract that Simon had.
However, this was just the start of their glorious collaboration.
Kirby and Simon left Fox and both collaborated on freelance work until they were hired by Timely Comics. It is important to note that Marvel and DC were technically around, but they were seeds of what they would become. Marvel was still called Timely Comics, and DC was under the name National Comics.
The dynamic duo had moderate success before this with their work on characters like Captain Marvel (DC).
With World War II will underway in 1940, Timely needed a character that could combat the evils in the war. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon answered with Captain America.
Captain America is often said to be Marvel’s Superman. However, he was created to be a patriotic representation of a heroic Allied soldier. He was a way of inspiring hope in both soldiers in Europe and those in America. He gave power to a lot of people who felt powerless, and he stood as a symbol for what people were fighting for in the war. These massive, herculean, heroic characters and heroes would become staples of Jack Kirby’s art style and design.
The War & The Duo EndUnfortunately, Kirby and Simon would have to break their partnership for a couple of years because Kirby was drafted into the army in 1943, and Simon joined the coast guard to help with WWII efforts. Their boss, however, foresaw this happening, and he had them create several Captain America pieces while they were gone.
After the war, they both reconvened and continued their work like they had before they went into service. Although, they briefly moved away from superhero comics. They began working on romance comics.
They found so much success with their romance comics that they were actually able to open their own comic company called Mainline Publications. Comics were still in their golden age, and the comic industry was not as binary as it is today.
There were tons of comic companies out there, and Marvel and DC had still not quite found their footing and strengths. It seemed like a good time for them to jump into the publishing game since they had so much experience. Unfortunately, their company never found success like they did when they were freelance.
The pair ran into a lot of financial trouble and they eventually had to close the company. Unfortunately, this also led to Kirby and Simon parting ways as partners too. Simon left to seek a career in advertising, and Kirby continued in comics. Kirby did reflect fondly on the partnership while it lasted, however, and they seemed to be able to part with no hard feelings.
Marvel & The New DuoIt is important to understand that Kirby had almost 15 years of work in comics before he ever landed at Marvel. He had done freelance for both Marvel and DC’s predecessors, but, again, they had changed quite a bit over the years.
This tenure in comics pre-Marvel or DC definitely helped Kirby develop a unique style, fully understand the medium, and learn how to experiment going forward. His work at Marvel is the culmination of the decade and a half of his work in the industry.
The first and most obvious example of this is his first partnership with Stan Lee on The Fantastic Four. Perhaps coincidentally, this also began his journey into cosmic characters. The Fantastic Four featured his signature herculean yet relatable characters as well as the massive, cosmic, titans he is known for. Coincidentally, he also did his own take on Hercules.
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Together, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created dozens of characters like Iron Man, The Hulk, Black Panther, The Inhumans, and Galactus. Despite primarily being an artist, he directly influenced countless stories revolving around those characters since Stan would usually just provide an outline of the story for Jack to fill in with art.
Needless to say, his time at Marvel easily produced some of his best work and truly changed the industry. The characters he worked on were real people with real problems. His designs of the Marvel characters he helped create are iconic. They are so iconic, that they have largely remained unchanged nearly 50 years later.
As a matter of fact, he is a major reason Marvel was able to become and stay a powerhouse in the comic industry. Stan was so impressed by Kirby’s work that he encouraged other Marvel writers to draw more like Jack.
Kirby’s Falling Out With MarvelKirby worked at Marvel for a little over 10 years, but he grew unhappy with the way Marvel was handling things. Everyone knows that tension grew between him and Stan. Kirby wanted more credit for his work, and he felt that all the media attention was going to Stan for comics that Kirby had more involvement in.
However, that wasn’t the only problem. Marvel was outright denying him credit for comics he wrote and drew, and they were not willing to renegotiate at all.
Soon after his falling out with Marvel, Kirby joined DC with a new deal two years in the making. DC was a complete game-changer for Jack. They basically opened the doors to him, and let him tell any story he wanted how he wanted to tell it.
It was a radical departure from the “Marvel Method,” and it let Kirby really experiment with his art and storytelling. At DC, Jack crafted his magnum opus Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.
The Fourth World Of DCJack Kirby’s Fourth World consisted of a trilogy of titles: New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People. Kirby wanted to create his own mythos and legends with these titles. They revolved around all-powerful gods and monsters who existed on New Genesis and Apokalips and the plot focused on the war between the two.
Kirby also used the series to create the most sinister and evil comic book villain of all time Darkseid. This cosmic baddie wanted to rule the multiverse by destroying the free will and hope of people.
The Fourth World let Jack take his art to extremes. He got more abstract with his drawing of planets and people. He also put more of himself into each character. Mister Miracle is an escape artist, and that is a pretty obvious symbol of how he felt at Marvel.
He created his own myths, legends, and gods with The Fourth World, and they became a focal point for the entire DC universe. Marvel even copied Darkseid with Thanos. His characters at DC were game-changing. His success at DC also let him publish more series that became cult hits.
Kirby ended up publishing comic book series on Kamandi and The Demon, which have become fan-favorite characters.
Jack Kirby’s Continuing LegacyKirby would eventually leave DC due to creative differences. He returned to Marvel briefly to create series like The Eternals and characters like the Celestials. Obviously, looking to replicate the success of Fourth World with the Marvel version. However,
Kirby made The Eternals and Celestials visually different from his Fourth World characters, but he kept the beautiful abstract, colorful look. He also briefly moved back to animation where he worked on the cult classic cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian.
At every point of his career, Kirby was inadvertently spearheading the industry in a new direction. His technique of drawing heroes breaking the bounds of panels is a technique still used to this day. Jack could create characters and locations that were wild and fantastical, and each of them looked radically different from the previous.
He dabbled in more abstract styles, and it made his art feel that much more stylistic and amazing. His heroes had fun and unique powers, which he brought to life with his art. He was a genius at drawing interesting powers, characters, and locations.
All of his characters were gorgeous to look at from an artistic standpoint, and they each had something unique about them.
His heroes are what people think of when they think about superheroes. He brought some of the greatest heroes to life with his art, and he did it with the style of a true artist. The comic industry would not be the same without him. Comic artists are still studying him and his work, and all modern comic books owe a small debt to Jack Kirby.
Kirby created some of the greatest characters ever, and he easily helped make Marvel and DC what they are today. Jack Kirby is a king of comics.