One week ago, Marvel put out a press release announcing something special: a five-day celebration of the life and work of Jack Kirby, the spectacularly talented and influential artist whose work underlies the majority of modern superhero comics. “Jack ‘The King’ Kirby is one of the founding fathers of the Marvel Universe,” the release trumpeted. “From August 22nd to the 28th—what would have been Kirby’s 99th birthday—Marvel will pay homage to the incredible and iconic contributions Kirby has made to the House of Ideas, entertainment, and pop-culture.” On offer were articles about Kirby’s creation of famous Marvel characters, podcast interviews with his son and granddaughter, and retrospective collections of Kirby’s art.
Born Jacob Kurtzburg in 1917, Kirby was the son of immigrant Jewish parents who settled in the lower east side of Manhattan. Kirby started drawing young, teaching himself the rudiments of the fast, explosive style that became his calling card. He drew monster comics, romance comics (a genre he had a hand in creating), westerns, and science fiction. In 1940, he and his fellow artist Joe Simon created Captain America. In 1961, he and Stan Lee collaborated on Fantastic Four, the first modern Marvel superhero comic. It was the start of a partnership that produced a pantheon of characters: Thor, Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Hulk, Iron Man, Black Panther, The Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom, The Inhumans and the X-Men, and far too many others to name. The Marvel comics universe and its accompanying blockbuster films simply would not exist without the cigar-chomping Jack Kirby. (Indeed, it’s possible that Star Wars, which bears a remarkable resemblance to Kirby’s Fourth World saga for DC Comics, wouldn’t exist either.)
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