Long live the King!

Leg­endary comic book artist Jack Kirby cre­ated a mar­vel of a legacy that shines on.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By KALEON RA­HAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

LAST Thurs­day marked the 20th an­niver­sary of the pass­ing of Jack “The King” Kirby, one of the most in­flu­en­tial comic creators of all time. If there were one per­son to ri­val or even sur­pass Stan “The Man” Lee’s stature, Kirby would be that man.

Born Ja­cob Kurtzberg on Aug 28, 1917, Kirby cre­ated al­most 400 comic char­ac­ters for a host of pub­lish­ers. While his name and deeds will en­dure through ma­jor cre­ations such as Cap­tain Amer­ica, Iron Man, Fan­tas­tic Four, Hulk, the Avengers and X-Men, what truly de­fined him was his rev­o­lu­tion­ary ap­proach to his work. From ap­ply­ing sci­en­tific con­cepts alien to daily life (cos­mic rays, gamma rays, etc) to cre­at­ing whole new worlds and lo­ca­tions (the Neg­a­tive Zone, 4th World, Apokolips, etc), he was light-years ahead of many of his peers.

This week, we pay trib­ute to “King” Kirby by look­ing back at some of his ca­reer-defin­ing mo­ments.

Man of many names

Kirby’s comic con­tri­bu­tions go be­yond his Mar­vel days, though they were his most suc­cess­ful mo­ments. He used a string of pseu­do­nyms while work­ing for other pub­lish­ers – his first comic-book work was on Eis­ner & Iger’s Wild

Boy Mag­a­zine, where he used the pseu­do­nym Curt Davis.

He sub­se­quently used sev­eral other pseu­do­nyms (Fred Sande, Jack Cur­tiss, Ted Grey, Teddy, Lance Kirby) be­fore fi­nally set­tling for Jack Kirby be­cause it re­minded him of ac­tor James Cag­ney.

Sto­ry­teller supreme

Ro­mance, war, western, su­per­nat­u­ral, fan­tasy, sci­ence fic­tion and su­per-pow­ers – Kirby’s cre­ative ver­sa­til­ity was in­dis­putable. From the Thing from Planet X to Fin Fang Foom, his uncanny abil­ity to cre­ate life on pa­per ir­re­spec­tive of genre was a tes­ta­ment to the nat­u­ral in­no­va­tor in him.

While work­ing on dif­fer­ent gen­res, he also im­pro­vised and rev­o­lu­tionised draw­ing tech­niques – spe­cial men­tion goes to the “Kirby Dots”, his method for de­pict­ing en­ergy fields.

Dur­ing the 1980s, he also ven­tured into an­i­ma­tion where he pro­vided de­signs for Turbo Teen, Thun­darr The Bar­bar­ian and the Fan­tas­tic Four car­toons.

Pi­o­neer­ing ro­man­tic

Be­fore cos­mic and gamma rays, it was Cupid’s ar­rows and bro­ken hearts for Kirby, as he and writer Joe Si­mon were credited with cre­at­ing the ro­mance comics genre.

Af­ter his re­turn from serv­ing in World War II, Kirby teamed up with Si­mon to cre­ate Young Ro­mance #1 (Oc­to­ber 1947), which was an in­stant suc­cess, sell­ing more than a mil­lion copies monthly. It spawned an equally suc­cess­ful spin-off,

Young Love, and in­spired a host of im­i­ta­tors.

Cour­tesy of this ro­mance-driven suc­cess is Kirby’s Long Is­land fam­ily home, which houses his in­fa­mous 3m-wide work stu­dio aka “The Dun­geon”.

Sil­ver Age Mar­vel

While most of the credit for launch­ing Mar­vel’s foray into the Sil­ver Age has gone to Stan Lee, Kirby’s in­flu­ence and con­tri­bu­tion to the House of Ideas can­not be ig­nored.

Col­lec­tively, their cre­ative fu­sion in the 1960s gen­er­ated a con­tin­u­ous stream of ground­break­ing char­ac­ters, con­cepts and story arcs that form the foun­da­tion for to­day’s en­ter­tain­ment ti­tans.

With­out start­ing a “Who’s Bet­ter – Kirby or Lee?” de­bate, it’s best to ac­knowl­edge that both Kirby and Lee brought dif­fer­ent strengths and di­men­sions to comics.

Kirby didn’t just cre­ate char­ac­ters but also en­sured they came in a to­tal pack­age – in a com­plete con­cept with all the nuts and bolts. Think Hulk with the mil­i­tary and gamma rays; and the Fan­tas­tic Four with sci­ence and cos­mic rays.

Kirby’s in­flu­ence at Mar­vel lasted a decade (1961 to 1970) where he de­ter­mined the house style while de­sign­ing char­ac­ters and their vis­ual mo­tifs. Ad­di­tion­ally, he also pro­vided “break­down” lay­outs to the com­pany’s new­com­ers. In other words, it wouldn’t be po­lit­i­cally wrong to re­name the House of Ideas as the House of Jack’s Ideas!

As the leg­endary Gil Kane said in 1985: “Jack was the sin­gle most in­flu­en­tial fig­ure in the turn­around in Mar­vel’s for­tunes from the time he re­joined the com­pany. It wasn’t merely that Jack con­ceived most of the char­ac­ters that are be­ing done, but Jack’s point of view and phi­los­o­phy of draw­ing be­came the gov­ern­ing phi­los­o­phy of the en­tire pub­lish­ing com­pany and, be­yond the pub­lish­ing com­pany, of the en­tire field ...

“(Mar­vel took) Jack and used him as a primer. They would get artists and taught them the ABCs, which amounted to learn­ing Jack Kirby. Jack was like the Holy Scrip­ture and they sim­ply had to fol­low him with­out de­vi­a­tion. That’s what was told to me ... It was how they taught ev­ery­one to rec­on­cile all those op­pos­ing at­ti­tudes to one sin­gle mas­ter point of view.”

Cap­tain cre­ator

The cre­ation of Cap­tain Amer­ica pre­dates the Mar­vel Universe – he was orig­i­nally co-cre­ated in the 1940s by Kirby and Si­mon for Timely Comics, the pre­de­ces­sor of Mar­vel Comics.

Post-WW II, the ap­peal of su­per­heroes at war de­clined and Timely de­cided to pull the plug on such pub­li­ca­tions. Timely’s suc­ces­sor, At­las Comics, re­booted the Cap se­ries in 1954, but in do­ing so re­placed Kirby and Si­mon with Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. In re­tal­i­a­tion, Kirby and Si­mon cre­ated a Cap-like hero called Fight­ing Amer­i­can, with the in­ten­tion of por­tray­ing the “real” Cap­tain Amer­ica.

The sit­u­a­tion was rec­ti­fied when Kirby re­turned to Mar­vel and launched the Avengers, in­duct­ing Cap­tain Amer­ica into the team. While this sorted out Kirby’s is­sues with the char­ac­ter, it did not ad­dress Si­mon’s. Later, when Si­mon got in­volved in a le­gal wran­gle over the own­er­ship of Cap­tain Amer­ica with Mar­vel Comics (the suc­ces­sor to At­las Comics) in the late 1960s, Kirby sup­ported Mar­vel’s claim, much to Si­mon’s sur­prise.

Bad guy builder

It is more dif­fi­cult to cre­ate a das­tardly vil­lain than a holierthan-thou hero. Kirby had a hand in cre­at­ing some of the big­gest and bad­dest vil­lains in comics, in­clud­ing Doc­tor Doom, Galac­tus, Mag­neto and the Brother­hood of Evil Mu­tants, the Red Skull, Dark­seid, Skrulls, Sur­tur, and er ... Iron Man vil­lain Wong Chu.

The clas­sic story of Galac­tus’ ar­rival on Earth ( Fan­tas­tic Four #48-#50) in par­tic­u­lar is, for me, Kirby’s most defin­ing piece of work. Un­til to­day, no other alien invasion ( Se­cret Invasion was a C-grader to me) has gen­er­ated that much sus­pense or ex­cite­ment!

De­fec­tion to DC

In 1970, Kirby did the unimag­in­able – he de­fected from Mar­vel to arch-ri­val DC Comics.

Be­fore that, there had been sev­eral break­ing points in the Kir­byMarvel re­la­tion­ship, with the artist feel­ing that he was un­fairly treated, lacked full cre­ative con­trol, and sad­dled with un­favourable con­tract terms

While Kirby pre­vi­ously did work for DC in the mid-1950s (where he cre­ated the Chal­lengers of the Un­known), his sec­ond home­com­ing was a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence al­to­gether.

At Mar­vel he was both cre­ator and in­no­va­tor, but at DC, there were al­ready cer­tain ex­ist­ing foun­da­tions and hi­er­ar­chies in place. Nev­er­the­less, Kirby still man­aged to make his mark via his Fourth World saga, which spawned the New Gods and Dark­seid. Ini­tially, th­ese cre­ations were not com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful but they have re­mained a sig­nif­i­cant part of to­day’s con­ti­nu­ity.

Su­per­man re­drawn

The big­gest in­sult to an artist is prob­a­bly hav­ing his work re­drawn

by another artist, which is even worse when the re­place­ment artist isn’t on par with the orig­i­nal artist. Sur­pris­ingly, this was the fate that be­fell Kirby when he moved to DC, as he found his Su­per­man il­lus­tra­tions re­drawn by past Man of Steel artists – the late Al Plastino and Mur­phy An­der­son!

Af­ter be­ing re­garded as “The King” at Mar­vel, DC’s treat­ment of his tal­ent smacked of dis­re­spect. How­ever, be­ing the new­comer, he played along, but con­fided to his close friends (par­tic­u­larly Mark Evanier) that he was an­noyed and mys­ti­fied by the shabby treat­ment.

Vic­tory for Kirby

Af­ter a topsy-turvy re­la­tion­ship with Mar­vel that lasted decades, Kirby fi­nally tasted vic­tory in 1987, when the pub­lish­ing house re­turned ap­prox­i­mately 2,000 pages of the es­ti­mated 10,000 pieces of art­work Kirby had pre­vi­ously drawn for the com­pany.

It was a dou­ble vic­tory for Kirby as he also re­tained own­er­ship of char­ac­ters he cre­ated for Topps Comics in 1993, aka “The Kir­by­verse”.

With Mar­vel fi­nally suc­cumb­ing to pres­sure from comics’ creators and the fan com­mu­nity, Kirby’s vic­tory marked a sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory for all cre­ative tal­ents and of­fered a new di­men­sion in terms of char­ac­ter own­er­ship rights.

Death of a leg­end

Kirby passed away on Feb 6, 1994 from heart fail­ure, prompt­ing an out­pour­ing of tributes from the comic in­dus­try. Mar­vel posthu­mously pub­lished a “lost” Kirby/Lee Fan­tas­tic Four story in 2008, en­ti­tled Fan­tas­tic Four: The

Lost Ad­ven­ture – which show­cased un­used pages Kirby ini­tially drew for Fan­tas­tic Four #108 (March 1971). DC ded­i­cated the 1998

Su­per­man: The An­i­mated Se­ries episode Apokalips ... Now! Part 2 to his mem­ory.

Be­yond the Big Two, Dy­na­mite En­ter­tain­ment also em­barked on a

Kirby: Ge­n­e­sis minis­eries in 2011, show­cas­ing Kirby char­ac­ters pre­vi­ously pub­lished by Pa­cific Comics and Topps Comics.

Twenty years af­ter his death, his legacy con­tin­ues to live on in count­less comic books, movies and car­toons based on or in­flu­enced by his cre­ations and his ge­nius. Rest in Peace, King Kirby.

On the ground: The leg­endary Jack Kirby at the San diego Comic Con­ven­tion in the united States in 1982. — Photo by aLaN LIGHT

Kirby was re­spon­si­ble for the cre­ation of one of dC Comics’ great­est vil­lains — dark­seid, who made his first ap­pear­ance here, in Su­per­man’sPalJim­myOlsen #134 (1970).

When he moved to dC, Kirby suf­fered the ig­nominy of hav­ing his work re­drawn by other artists — in this case, the late al Plastino, whose re­drawn Su­per­man is on the right.

Kirby also cre­ated some of Mar­vel’s great­est vil­lains, in­clud­ing doc­tor doom.

Sprawl­ing vis­tas: Kirby wowed Mar­vel read­ers in the 1960s and 1970s with stun­ning splash pages and spreads, like this Thor pin-up.

Nice pose, Cap — Cap­tain Amer­ica was orig­i­nally co-cre­ated in the 1940s by Kirby and Joe Si­mon for Timely Comics — the pre­de­ces­sor of Mar­vel Comics.

‘Kirby is here!’ His de­fec­tion to DC Comics in 1970 was a huge coup for Mar­vel’s great­est ri­val.

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