The Jack Kirby Legacy
On Friday, Marvel came to an agreement with the family of legendary comic artist Jack Kirby after a prolonged court battle that was set to go to the US Supreme Court. I really didn’t want to go with the news story that everyone is reporting, which is that nobody is disclosing the details of the settlement. Rather, I’d like to do an article focusing on the legacy of Jack Kirby, rightfully called “the King” of comics. So, I’m going to create a list of Kirby’s legacy. It will by no means be complete, for no list can, and I would direct your attention to the Kirby Museum, which works to preserve his legacy. If anyone is doubtful of how prolific an artist he was, in his most productive year, Jack Kirby drew 1158 pages (source), which averages to over thirty pages a day if he took no time off. With a record like that, any listing of his legacy is bound to be incomplete, but I’m going to make my try at it.
With Joe Simon, Kirby created Captain America, adding a dynamism to the artwork that made Captain America a man constantly in motion. With any other artist, we may not have had a precedent for the stunts in the recent Marvel films. Due to some perceived shady dealings by Martin Goodman, Simon and Kirby only published until Captain America Comics #10 before leaving for National, now known as DC Comics. However, Kirby solidified the almost superhuman athleticism of the character and solidified the look of one of the most patriotic super-heroes to ever be published in comics.
THE MARVEL UNIVERSE
There’s a reason that Marvel is sometimes called the house that Stan n’ Jack built. With Stan Lee, Jack Kirby created the aforementioned Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D.,the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Magneto, the Black Panther, the Inhumans, Ronan the Accuser, Groot, Doctor Doom, and the Eternals, not to mention a plethora of supporting characters and villains. This was part of the contention around the Kirby family’s lawsuit. In recent years, Stan Lee’s interviews have begun to give more credit to Jack Kirby for his role in their creation, and rightfully so. Look at what Jack Kirby created after leaving Marvel (we’ll cover that shortly), and look at what Stan Lee created after Jack Kirby left Marvel, and you’ll see a significant difference in quality. However, without Jack Kirby, Stan was still able to play a hand in the creation of iconic characters like Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, and Daredevil.
This may seem a little light-hearted, but many artists, myself included, have made use of Kirby’s practice of using interlacing black dots of varying sizes to illustrate blasts from energy weapons, telepathy, and cosmic vistas. It was an innovation that transformed the industry and became synonymous with comics for a generation. They see their use even today, and it has become a design element that has become a staple of the medium, and doesn’t limit itself to the super-hero genre.
DARKSEID AND THE NEW GODS
DC has gotten a lot of mileage out of a few years that Jack Kirby worked at DC, creating a grand magnum opus featuring an eternal battle between good and evil. Debuting some of the characters in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, He expanded their story into three keystone titles, New Gods, Forever People and Mister Miracle. During this time, he also created OMAC, Kamandi, the Demon and others. If his faces hadn’t been redrawn, who knows what masterpieces might have developed from that playground. In the 1980s, Kirby returned to the New Gods as part of the Super Powers line, as well as the Hunger Dogs Graphic Novel.
THE CREATOR’S RIGHTS MOVEMENT
Jack Kirby’s fight to simply get his original artwork returned to him caused the final rift between Marvel and Kirby. Many creators, writers and artists alike would be very vocal in their support of Kirby. During the 1980s, his fight, joined by Neal Adams not only got their artwork returned but had gotten a policy instituted of the return of artwork to the artists that created it. The battle also helped institute a royalty system and get creator credits for many characters.
The unintentional result of this fight saw the rise of an Independent publishing community that respected creator’s rights much more than before. Without Jack Kirby’s fight, there would not have been the large number of options for creators for the past thirty years. Think of all the great comics and characters that may not have had an opportunity to get their start.
I haven’t even touched on his work in the 1950s on Westerns, Romance and Monster comics. There are resources and books dedicated to his vast body of work that you should check out, just go into Amazon and type his name, for there are too many to even begin to get started on a list, and that’s not counting Jack Kirby Collector, a periodical published by Two Morrows centered on his vast contributions to the industry. Practically everything you like about comics today has come from the hard work of Jack Kirby, and on Friday, Marvel seemed to have finally accepted that their success is owed to a man that they gave far too much grief to while he was alive. Raise your glass of Kirby Dots and toast the man without whom much of what we love wouldn’t be here today.