Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Keys to the Kingdom ~~ A "Comical Wednesday" Post ~~ Part One (of Two)

On August 28th, 1917, a child named Jacob Kurtzberg was born in New York City. There is apparently no truth to the rumor that he was born with a pencil in his right hand (and a cigar in his left), but his decision to become an artist certainly wasn't made too long after that!

Entering the field of comic books roughly at the same time as the need for all-new material became apparent, young Kurtzberg toyed with a handful of "pen names" before deciding on "Jack Kirby," and it was under that name (which he later "made legal") that he became the most influential comic book artist ever.

Jack Kirby would have turned 94 years old last Sunday, if he were still with us.

Heh. What am I saying? As long as comic books -- or even characters that were spawned in the comic books -- exist, Kirby will never really leave us.

Jack Kirby has been called "The King of Comics" by many -- although he never called himself that -- and his astounding career spanned more than fifty years. He created, co-created, and/or drew more characters than I could list without writing an article which even I wouldn't have the patience to read, much less write.

The list of only those characters which he created or co-created, according to Wikipedia, stands at 304 as of today... and I'll bet they missed a few! They include Captain America, the X-Men, Kamandi, the Fantastic Four, the Fly, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Red Skull, the mighty Thor, OMAC, Doctor Doom, Etrigan the Demon, the incredible Hulk, Darkseid, Fighting American, Mister Miracle, the "Kid Cowboys" of Boys' Ranch, Sgt. Nick Fury, Captain Victory, the Newsboy Legion, Stuntman, the Boy Commandos, the Silver Surfer, Big Barda, Captain 3-D... and I probably left out one or two of your own Kirby favorites, if you follow comics at all!

 Writer Mark Evanier, who was both friend and assistant to Jack Kirby, has said "If [Kirby] wasn't your favorite artist, the odds were good that he was your favorite artist's favorite artist." I would twist that little quote around a tad to say that if Kirby didn't have a hand in the creation of your favorite character, the odds were good that he drew your favorite character at one time or another. And that includes characters such as Superman, the Shield, Blue Bolt, the original Captain Marvel, and dozens -- if not hundreds -- more! 

So. What should I do to commemorate such a man's birthday in this Comical Wednesday post? (I won't even try to provide an overview of the man's spectacular career.)

I suppose I can do what I so often do, which is give my own slant on Kirby... the man, the artist, and his work... and how "they" all affected me.

As I told in much greater detail here, in 1963 I was still a good year or so away from being able to appreciate the differences between comic book publishers (as well as comic book artists). But when my older sister came home with a copy of Fantastic Four Annual #1, my young eyes -- accustomed to DC Comics titles like Batman, Superman, Action Comics, and Detective Comics -- immediately discerned that something here was different. It was my first exposure to the art of Jack Kirby... although I certainly couldn't have told you that then!

A year or so later, when I started buying Marvel titles like Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Tales to Astonish (featuring Giant-Man and the Wasp), I started catching on that guys named Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Don Heck were drawing them... and that some guy named Stan Lee seemed to be writing all of these titles, and more!

And then (for me) came Captain America!

The Avengers was not a title that I read (yet) when Captain America was brought back from comic book limbo in its fourth issue. But only two months later, I got a double shot of Cap when the Avengers guest-starred in Fantastic Four #26 (which was my very first "regular" issue of FF), and a couple of weeks later, when my mother brought home a bunch of new Marvels, including Avengers #5!

As much as I enjoyed some of the DC and Marvel heroes like Superman, Thor, the Flash, and their ilk, as a little boy I tended to identify more with the so-called costumed athletes. That's why I formed such an early infatuation for heroes like Batman and Captain America. Somewhere in the back of my young mind, I felt that by the time I grew up, I too could be a "superhero" in the same way they were. (But boy, was I ticked off when I learned Cap's full origin, which included his being subjected to a "Super Soldier" formula! What a cheat! But I digress.)

And hey, cut me some slack, here, fellow babies. Throughout most of 1964, I was only seven!

I formed an immediate attachment for the Captain, fueled by the same dynamic artwork which Kirby imbued in all the characters he drew, and rejoiced when C.A. got his own series in the rear of Tales of Suspense, as a back-up to Iron Man's feature.

Kirby's art and Stan Lee's dialogue may both have been more than a bit "over the top" in terms of realism, but who the heck wanted realism? These were comics, after all!

Try to imagine the mid-1960s, a world without comic shops, nor even -- to my knowledge -- any mail-order back-issue dealers! I did everything I could to find as many old Marvels as possible, and ended up relying on the collection my best friend Kevin shared with his older brother, local barber shops, and in one instance, my cousin Curtis.

I lucked out, all told, and in the space of a year or so, I was able to obtain the following "oldies but goodies," among others! (I even acquired a couple of "pre-Marvel" Atlas Comics, which came out before Fantastic Four #1!) Here they are, in absolutely no order. And notice, if you will, that every single one of them had Kirby art (and a Kirby cover!), although not all of them contained only art by Jack!

Uhhh, no. Not the Magneto you X-Men fans are thinking of! He came later!

Well! After that flurry of images, I'm going to give both of us a week-long break from this story. I guess it only goes to prove that a subject such as Jack Kirby can rarely be confined to just one post.

Next week's Comical Wednesday post will detail my young self's further immersion in Marvelmania -- and... Kirbyana? -- and my conversation with The Man himself!

So, Happy Birthday, Jack... even if I am a couple of days late!

Thanks for your time.


  1. Jack Kirby is his distinct style...and yes happy belated birthday to him...

  2. Heh. Reading that really took me back to when I got "clued in" to Marvel. I was in seventh grade, and it was the last few days of school before summer vacation. They let us bring in comic books, games, etc. The kid that sat behind me had brought in a bunch of brand-new "Marvel Comics." Being an inquisitive sort I asked, "Vas ist lost? Ist dein Marvel?" To which he responded, "Si senor." He let me read them and I was hooked. I mean, DC by that time was doing these really dumbed-down stories, and I was ready for some "grown-up entertainment." Thanks for posting this, kimosabe!

  3. Yep created the x-men big big plus there. He deserves all the credit he gets and so much more. He really did define comics and the characters. He even drew TMNT once, if I recall correctly. Another big win there.

  4. fantastic four? Are you talking about my kittens...oh aren't. ha.

  5. You do know, I hope, that you have instilled in me a new appreciation for the magic that is comics. Not only that, but you have also allowed me the sinful pleasure that comes at the hands of receiving a sincere and well thought comment ;). You should know as well, that for the first time ever I have entered the commenting world via IPhone... In my book that makes you a pretty special guy. A big thank you...sincerely x1000 now I pray I can manage to get this to post!

  6. @Natasha: Gee, I never thought my blog would provide a public service! Reading is good, no matter what you read. Comics, poetry... or even old books, eh?


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