It’s hard to imagine comics without Jack “King” Kirby. The comics industry as we know it today would not exist without him. He was a pioneering artist in the 1940s, co-creating Captain America with Joe Simon. The Marvel Cinematic Universe would not exist without him. Kirby had a hand in the creation of almost all the Avengers movie characters (with the possible exception of Hawkeye and Black Widow), so his impact today is more important than ever, stretching way beyond just comic books. His characters are household words, if (sadly) he himself isn’t.
Kirby was the first artist who really meant something to me. At the ripe old age of six, I discovered the Fantastic Four. Kirby and Stan Lee’s signatures on that first page made me come to the startling revelation that someone actually wrote and drew these comic books I was so fond of. As a kid, I would coerce my friends into playing “Marvel Comics” with me. I would be Stan and whomever was unlucky enough to be stuck in our cramped, comic book-filled playroom would be Jack. We would “smoke” pretzel rods, because all top comic creators smoked big, fat, stinky cigars. I would say “What’s in our next issue, Jack?” and my friends would look at me with a blank face, convinced that I was weird beyond belief. But I was obsessed, and in the decade of the ‘60s, when you went to the newsstand and were confronted with 3 or 4 or 5 Kirby-drawn Marvel comics in any given month, the powerful opiate of 4-color comics was enticingly persuasive. Especially when you’re ten years old.
For me, Kirby was never as good alone as he was with Stan Lee … as a team, they were the Lennon & McCartney of comics. Like the Beatles, they didn’t always get along, but the work they did together was absolutely amazing. It’s doubly sad to see a train wreck such as the new Fantastic Four movie. Lee & Kirby created a blueprint for an amazing ongoing story, more than enough for multiple movies. For anyone to abandon that already-created storyboard is a crime.
We still miss you, King. Happy 98th birthday.
Above image: Hulk (from Avengers #3, I believe), 1964 © Marvel Characters, Inc. • Kirby portrait by and © Michael Cho