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Jack Kirby - The King Of Comic Book Art

Updated on June 9, 2013
Captain America # 109
Captain America # 109

The Early Years

Born Jacob Kurtzberg in August 1917, Jack Kirby would go on to become the most well known and respected comic book artist of all time.Kirby was raised in a family of Austrian Jewish descent in Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. From an early age Kirby liked to draw and being self taught he sought out places where he could learn more about his art but Kirby was rejected by the Educational Alliance as he drew too fast and he left the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn as he felt they wanted him to take to long over pieces, Kirby was always one for getting things done fast.


Early Work

Jack worked under the pseudonym Jack Curtiss for the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate drawing comic strips and single panel advice cartoons before moving on to Fleisher Studios as an artist who filled in the in between action on the well known Popeye cartoons. After leaving Fleisher, Kirby moved on to Eisner and Iger a company who produced comic books on demand for the now booming early comic book industry. Around this time Jack settled on the pen name of Jack Kirby, remarking that it reminded him of James Cagney, he would take offense with those who thought the name change was to hide his Jewish heritage.

After moving with his family to Brooklyn in the summer of 1940, Kirby met and fell in love with his future wife Rosalind " Roz " Goldstein, Jack proposed to her on her eighteenth birthday.

Partnership with Joe Simon

After moving to newspaper syndicate Fox Feature Jack met a creator that would have a profound effect on his career Fox editor Joe Simon. After doing some freelance work together Kirby and Simon joined Timely Comics the predecessor of Marvel , it was here that they would create one of the most recognizable characters in comic books Captain America. After working for Timely for a while the duo were then offered work at National Publications the forerunner of DC, paying far more money than Timely, Simon and Kirby left Timely after working on Captain America Comics # 10. At National ,Simon and Kirby scored a massive hit with the kid gang the Newsboy Legion featured in Star Spangled Comics.

Captain America shows Hitler who's boss.
Captain America shows Hitler who's boss.

The War Years

In 1943 Jack Kirby was drafted into the US Army in Company F of the 11th Infantry Division, with his experience in art, Kirby was given a dangerous reconnaissance role, venturing into towns to draw maps and pictures and during the winter of 1944 Kirby was admitted to hospital in London, England with severe frostbite. After recovering from frostbite Kirby returned to the USA in 1945 honorably discharged. During 1945, Kirby now married, joined Harvey Comics and resumed his partnership with Joe Simon. As well as working for Harvey the duo continued with their freelance work and found some success with the popular romance comics of the time notably Young Romance.

The 1st issue of Fantastic Four 1961
The 1st issue of Fantastic Four 1961

Marvel

Kirby and Simon worked for many companies during the mid fifties, Simon wanting to move into advertising eventually broke up their partnership and Kirby began freelancing to Atlas ( then the name of Marvel ). It was at Marvel in 1961 that Kirby began a partnership with Marvel writer and editor Stan Lee that would change the face of comic books forever.

Responding to the success of DC comics Justice League, Lee and Kirby came up with the idea of the Fantastic Four, unlike previous super heroes the Fantastic Four seemed more natural, with faults and foibles that the readers could identify with, coupled with Kirby's cosmic imagination the book was an immediate success.

Stan Lee

Success followed success for Kirby and Lee their skills and imagination bought to life the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, the Silver Surfer and many others, Kirby also drew the cover of Amazing Fantasy # 15 the first appearance of Spider-man, although art duties on this particular book were handed over to Steve Ditko. Kirbys big brash heroic art style became the in house Marvel style, artists were encouraged to follow a brief outline from Stan Lee and develop the story from this, this became known as the Marvel method.

For almost a decade Marvel easily led the way in comic book sales, so successful were they in the 1960s that as well as the Silver Age the time is often called by comic book fans the Marvel Age of comics.

Break Up With Marvel And Return To DC

Kirby unhappy at Marvel, rumors suggest he was unhappy at Stan Lees high profile and a lack of credit for his contribution to Marvels success, negotiated a deal in 1970 to move to Marvels chief rivals DC. Here he produced the Fourth World series which included a trio of new titles New Gods, Mister Miracle and the Forever People as well as drawing the comic Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen.

Devil Dinosaur # 1
Devil Dinosaur # 1

Return to Marvel

In 1975 Kirby made a welcome and much heralded return to Marvel Comics, although never enjoying the success with the new characters he created Kirby did produce an adaption and expansion of 2001 A Space Odyssey and brought out other creations Devil Dinosaur and Machine Man.

The 1980s

During the 1980s Kirby struck a deal with Pacific Comics to produce a creator owned series Captain Victory and The Galactic Rangers and a six issue mini series Silver Star. Estranged from Marvel Kirby continued to work periodically for DC. In 1987 due to pressure from fans and the comic book community Marvel handed back to Kirby some 2,100 of the estimated 12,000 original pages he had drawn for them.

Legacy

Sadly Kirby died of heart failure at his Californian home in 1994. He left a legacy of some of the most well known and beloved characters in popular culture and it is probably fair to say that he has never really received full credit for this. Kirby fought throughout his career on behalf of the creators and his actions have helped many others receive a fairer reward for their work. Amazingly as of September 2012 Kirby created characters had earned an astounding 3.1 at the box office.

Jack Kirby the King of the comic book artists.

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    • Geekdom profile image

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      I agree they didn't get all the credit they deserved.

    • nuffsaidstan profile image
      Author

      nuffsaidstan 4 years ago

      Have you seen that interview with Alan Moore at a library in Northampton? He gives Stan Lee a bit of a going over, basically accuses him of standing on the shoulder of giants, in my humble opinion i believe Kirby and Ditko didn't get the credit they deserved but that Stan Lee was still a major imaginative talent but also better at promoting himself and Marvel as a company than any of the other artists or writers.

    • Geekdom profile image

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      Great article on a legendary artist.

      Voted Up and Interesting.

      I was watching With Great Powers: The Stan Lee documentary and Stan talked about Kirby's departure from Marvel. It was very emotional.