When it comes to growing up and reading comic books, the first name that we heard about was Jack “The King” Kirby and after reading many of his books, we knew exactly why he was considered The King. After all, he along with another well known Icon, Stan “The Man” Lee were responsible for creating super hero universe of the likes that never existed previously with characters like Black Panther, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and just about every other iconic character thought of. Today Nostalgia King celebrates the birthday of the legendary artists and writer, Jack Kirby who has has inspired and influenced so many artists who came after him.
Kirby grew up in New York City, and learned to draw cartoon figures by tracing characters from comic strips and editorial cartoons. He entered the nascent comics industry in the 1930s, drawing various comics features under different pen names, including Jack Curtiss, before ultimately settling on Jack Kirby. In 1940, he and writer-editor Joe Simon created the highly successful superhero character Captain America for Timely Comics, predecessor of Marvel Comics. During the 1940s, Kirby, regularly teamed with Simon, created numerous characters for that company and for National Comics Publications, later to become DC Comics.
Several months later, after his split with DC, Kirby began freelancing regularly for Atlas in spite of his lingering resentment of Lee from the 1940s. Because of the poor page rates, Kirby would spend 12 to 14 hours daily at his drawing table at home, producing four to five pages of artwork a day. His first published work at Atlas was the cover of and the seven-page story “I Discovered the Secret of the Flying Saucers” in Strange Worlds #1 (Dec. 1958). Initially with Christopher Rule as his regular inker, and later Dick Ayers, Kirby drew across all genres, from romance comics to war comics to crime comics to Westerns, but made his mark primarily with a series of supernatural-fantasy and science fiction stories featuring giant, drive-in movie-style monsters with names like Groot, the Thing from Planet X; Grottu, King of the Insects; and Fin Fang Foom for the company’s many anthology series, such as Amazing Adventures, Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, and World of Fantasy. His bizarre designs of powerful, unearthly creatures proved a hit with readers. Additionally, he freelanced for Archie Comics’ around this time, reuniting briefly with Joe Simon to help develop the series The Fly and The Double Life of Private Strong. Additionally, Kirby drew some issues of Classics Illustrated.
It was at Marvel, in collaborating with writer and editor-in-chief Lee that Kirby hit his stride once again in superhero comics, beginning with The Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961). The landmark series became a hit that revolutionized the industry with its comparative naturalism and, eventually, a cosmic purview informed by Kirby’s seemingly boundless imagination—one well-matched with the consciousness-expanding youth culture of the 1960s.
For almost a decade, Kirby provided Marvel’s house style, co-creating with Stan Lee many of the Marvel characters and designing their visual motifs. At Lee’s request, he often provided new-to-Marvel artists “breakdown” layouts, over which they would pencil in order to become acquainted with the Marvel look. (As artist Gil Kane described)
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 they 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.
Highlights of Lee/Kirby collaborations, other than the Fantastic Four, include: the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the original X-Men, Doctor Doom, Uatu the Watcher, Magneto, Ego the Living Planet, the Inhumans and their hidden city of Attilan, and the Black Panther, comics’ first known black superhero—and his African nation of Wakanda. Kirby drew the first Spider-Man story intended for publication in Amazing Fantasy #15 but Stan Lee chose to have Steve Ditko redraw the story.
Lee and Kirby gathered several of their newly created characters together into the team title The Avengers and would revive characters from the 1940s such as the Sub-Mariner, Captain America, and Ka-Zar.