It is difficult to say that any one individual is the most important
person in any history, but no one is important than Jack Kirby to
the history of the comic book and it's current styles, both visually
Jacob Kurtzburg was born in New York city on August 28, 1917 in one
of the toughest neighborhoods of the city. Dubbed "Hell's Kitchen"
it was home to many of the roughest hoodlums on the east coast.
His artistic career began in 1935 when he secured a job with the
Max Fleisher Studios doing "in-betweens" for the Popeye
cartoon series. In 1936 he joined the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate
where he simultaneously drew several different comic strips under
different pseudonyms. Drawing "Socko the Sea Dog", "Abdul
Jones" and "Black Buccaneer" among others, he remained
there until 1938 when the syndicate folded.
He free-lanced doing pulp illustrations for a short while before
temporarily landing at the Eisner-Iger studio late in 1938. Some of
his work in this period can be found in Jungle & Jumbo Comics,
and he also began to work for numerous other companies as well, illustrating
such characters as Blue Beetle, Blue Bolt, Red Raven, and even the
big red cheese - Captain Marvel (he drew the entire first issue).
It was at this time he began to cement his relationship with the publishers,
his peers and comics fandom.
While at novelty pubs. doing Blue Bolt, Kirby met Joe Simon and within
a few months they had become a team. Working out of their shared studio,
they began to "package" comic books for various publishers,
when in early 1941, Timely Comics publisher Martin Goodman asked the
team to create a character to compete with the patriotic hero from
Pep Comics named the "Shield".
They responded with one of the most enduring characters of the medium
- Captain America! In those barely pre-American war involvement days,
Captain America was an immediate hit and Kirby's influence on the
comic form would gain it's great momentum. Using his dynamic perspectives
and cinematic technique, Kirby began to exceed the previous boundaries
of the comic book that only a few artists had done before him, namely
Lou Fine, Will Eisner, Mort Meskin and Alex
The ten issues of Captain America drawn by Simon & Kirby (or
more appropriately Kirby and Simon as Jack penciled and Joe inked)
are historic in their creation and Kirby's art for them is legendary
in status. One of the most startling concepts were the incredible
two-page center-spreads which entranced readers and historians of
Artist Jim Steranko, heavily influenced by Kirby did homage to these
huge spreads by doing his own in several Nick Fury stories done in
Strange Tales & Agent of Shield in the late sixties. He even did
Kirby one better and drew one incredible four page spread, and this
technique is commonly copied today.
In 1942, the team was lured away from Timely by rival publisher DC
Comics, who needed to get them away from Timely because of their popularity
in the field at that time. While drawing Captain America, their team
logo&127 "Simon & Kirby" was featured prominently,
something that only Siegel & Shuster and the Eisner-Iger shop
artists had done previously.
The great lure was not only better pay, but better billing for the
artists as well. On the covers of Adventure Comics with the "Sandman"
a banner blared with the message "Sandman by Simon & Kirby".
They had certainly become famous in their own right to comics fans.
Finally, in 1943 the war in Europe reached the Kirby-Simon studio
and the creative team was drafted into the army.
When they returned from the war in 1945 Jack & Joe set up shop
again packaging books for a string of publishers beginning with Harvey
Comics for whom they created Boys Explorers & Stuntman.
In 1947 they began packaging for Prize/Crestwood and immediately
brought back Headline Comics, which became the company's crime title
(followed shortly by Justice Traps the Guilty, another crime title)
and created Young Romance Comics, which is historically the very first
romance comic title. Also for Crestwood the team created Black Magic,
one of the most highly regarded horror titles of the 1950's.
In 1954 they went into publishing for themselves and formed Mainline
Comics.It wasn't that they weren't being paid well at Crestwood. Indeed
they were in for a 50% cut of the profits. No, they just wanted to
get in on the money of publishing. Bullseye, In Love, Police Trap
& Foxhole were some of the titles they produced during this period.
Also in 1954 the creative duo saw the revival of their early creation
Captain America by rival publisher Timely/Atlas and created yet another
patriotic hero to do battle head to head with one of their most famous
creations. The Fighting American, was a hit but the title lasted a
scant 7 issues before succumbing to oblivion.
Then a bomb dropped on the comics industry. Groups of moralists all
over America were protesting comic books because they felt they were
major contributors to juvenile delinquency. There were senate hearings,
Reader's Digest articles and social
backlash. Finally between late 1954 and early 1955 nearly 350
comic titles ceased publication under pressure from these groups.
Almost overnight, the business had been decimated as had Kirby's
artistic output, which until this time had been over 20 pages of art
per week in addition to scripting chores. From February through May
1955 Jack drew a scant twenty pages of comic art.
With nowhere else to go, Jack returned to Crestwood (now Prize) and
again drew Young Romance & Young Love which was edited by Joe
Simon. When Prize folded in late 1956, the artistic collaboration
Between Simon & Kirby, which had lasted for almost twenty years
came to an end, finished by the roar of censorship.
So in 1956 with a family to feed and nowhere else to go Kirby began
working with DC again, illustrating the Green Arrow in Adventure Comics,
and doing sci-fi and mystery stories. But Jack's mind was still bubbling
and it would not be very long before he would help create a new generation
of comic heroes, eternalizing his name in the museum of comics history.
In 1957 Jack got the idea of a group of men who survive a plane crash
on a pacific island and after some death defying adventures the four
daredevils become a team fighting fantastic criminals and futuristic
villains. Called the "Challengers of the Unknown" they were
a seminal influence for Kirby's design of the Fantastic Four which
appeared in 1961, signaling the resurgence of superheroes in comic
At about the same time he created and successfully syndicated a science&127
fiction newspaper strip which is highly revered, "Skymasters"
written & pencilled by Jack and inked by Wally Wood and the unrelated
Wood brothers Dick & Dave. The strip folded in 1959.
Then Kirby returned to Marvel where he created or co-created nearly
every character Marvel marketed for several years. The Fantastic Four,
Spider-Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man, Nick Fury, Iron man, the X-Men,
Silver Surfer, the Avengers and Captain America was revived for the
third time. Then there were the villains who fought the heroes. They
are almost entirely machinations of the Kirby mind.
The creation and successful appearances of each of these characters
not only contributed to comics media, but likely revitalized the comics
publishing industry at a time when it was on the brink of oblivion.
Kirby was most certainly responsible for Marvel's rejuvenation in
1961 and one wonders what direction the comics medium might have taken
had it not been for Jack's genius when comics were at their darkest
Later when Jack had a falling out with Marvel publisher/editor Stan
Lee, he went back to DC for a third go round and Jack designed a whole
new series of comics. The New Gods, Mister Miracle, Kamandi and the
Forever People. These characters, though not extremely popular or
successful at the time have in recent years become quite popular and
their resurrections have caused collectors to go back & reappraise
these incarnations of the Kirby genius.
Over the length of a career that has spanned seven decades Jack Kirby
has been credited with illustrating over 24,000 pages of comic book
art, making him the most prolific comic artist to ever walk the Earth.
He also drew hundreds of comic strips throughout his career and numerous
Hollywood film conceptualizations. He is credited with being one of
the most influential creators of the field and his influence can be
seen in nearly every comic artists visual concept and design. He is
an American icon.