Jack Kirby (August 28, 1917 - February 6, 1994), was an American comic book artist, writer and editor. Growing up poor in New York City, he entered the nascent comics industry in the 1930s. In 1941, Kirby and writer Joe Simon created the highly successful superhero character Captain America for Timely Comics. During the 1940s, Kirby would create a number of comics for various publishers, often teamed with Simon.
After serving in World War II, Kirby returned to comics and worked in a variety of genres. He contributed to a number of publishers, including Archie Comics and DC Comics, but ultimately found himself at Timely's 1950s iteration, Atlas Comics. In the 1960s, Kirby co-created many of Marvel Comics' major characters including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk along with writer-editor Stan Lee. Despite the high sales and critical acclaim of the Lee-Kirby titles, Kirby felt treated unfairly, and left the company in 1970 for rival DC Comics.
While working for DC, Kirby created his Fourth World saga, which spanned several comics titles. While these and other titles proved commercially unsuccessful and were canceled, several of their characters and the Fourth World mythos have continued as a significant part of the DC Comics universe. Kirby returned to Marvel briefly in the mid- to late 1970s, then ventured into television animation and independent comics. In his later years, Kirby received great recognition for his career accomplishments, and is regarded by historians and fans as one of the major innovators and most influential creators in the comic-book medium.BiographyEarly life (1917-1935)
Kirby was born in August 1917 in New York City. His father was an Austrian Jewish immigrant who earned a living as a garment-factory worker. Growing up on Suffolk Street, Kirby was often involved in street fights with other kids, he later said that "fighting became second nature. I began to like it." Through his youth Kirby desired to escape his neighborhood. He liked to draw and sought out places he could learn more about art. Essentially self-taught, Kirby cited among his influences the comic strip artists Milton Caniff, Hal Foster, and Alex Raymond, as well as such editorial cartoonists as C. H. Sykes, "Ding" Darling, and Rollin Kirby. He was rejected by the Educational Alliance because he "[drew] too fast with charcoal", according to Kirby. He later found an outlet for his skills by drawing cartoons for the newspaper of the Boys Brotherhood Republic, a "miniature city" on East 3rd Street where street kids ran their own government.
Kirby enrolled at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, at what he said was age 14, leaving after a week. "I wasn't the kind of student that Pratt was looking for. They wanted people who would work on something forever. I didn't want to work on any project forever. I intended to get things done".Entry into comics (1936-1940)
Per his own sometimes-unreliable memory, Kirby joined the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate in 1936, working there on newspaper comic strips and on single-panel advice cartoons such as Your Health Comes First!!! (under the pseudonym "Jack Curtiss"). He remained until late 1939, then worked for the movie animation company Fleischer Studios as an "inbetweener" (an artist who fills in the action between major-movement frames) on Popeye cartoons. "I went from Lincoln to Fleischer," he recalled. "From Fleischer I had to get out in a hurry because I couldn't take that kind of thing," describing it as "a factory in a sense, like my father's factory. They were manufacturing pictures."
Around that time, the American comic book industry was booming. Kirby began writing and drawing for the comic-book packager Eisner & Iger, one of a handful of firms creating comics on demand for publishers. Through that company, Kirby did what he remembers as his first comic book work, for Wild Boy Magazine. This included such strips as the science fiction adventure The Diary of Dr. Hayward (under the pseudonym "Curt Davis"), the Western crime fighter strip Wilton of the West (as "Fred Sande"), the swashbuckler strip The Count of Monte Cristo (again as "Jack Curtiss"), and the humor strips Abdul Jones (as "Ted Grey)" and Socko the Seadog (as "Teddy"), all variously for Jumbo Comics and other Eisner-Iger clients. He ultimately settled on the pen name Jack Kirby because it reminded him of actor James Cagney. However, he took offense to those who suggested he changed his name in order to hide his Jewish heritage.
In the summer of 1940, Kirby and his family moved to Brooklyn. There, Kirby met Rosalind "Roz" Goldstein, who lived in his family's apartment building. The pair began dating soon afterward. Kirby proposed to Goldstein on her eighteenth birthday, and the two became engaged.
Partnership with Joe Simon (1941-1942)
Kirby moved on to comic-book publisher and newspaper syndicator Fox Feature Syndicate, earning a then-reasonable $15 a week salary. He began exploring superhero narrative with the comic strip The Blue Beetle (January-March 1940), starring a character created by the pseudonymous Charles Nicholas, a house name that Kirby retained for the three-month-long strip. During this time, Kirby met and began collaborating with cartoonist and Fox editor Joe Simon, who in addition to his staff work continued to freelance. Simon recalled in 1988, "I loved Jack's work and the first time I saw it I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He asked if we could do some freelance work together. I was delighted and I took him over to my little office. We worked from the second issue of Blue Bolt..."
After leaving Fox and landing at pulp magazine publisher Martin Goodman's Timely Comics (the future Marvel Comics), Simon and Kirby created the patriotic superhero Captain America in late 1940. Simon cut a deal with Goodman that gave him and Kirby 15 percent of the profits from the strip as well as salaried positions as the company's editor and art director, respectively. The first issue of Captain America Comics, released in early 1941, sold out in days, and the second issue's print run was set at over a million copies. The title's success established the team as a notable creative force in the industry. After the first issue was published, Simon asked Kirby to join the Timely staff as the company's art director.
Despite the success of the Captain America character, Simon felt that Goodman was not paying the pair the promised percentage of profits, and so sought work for the two of them at National Comics (later named DC Comics). Kirby and Simon negotiated a deal that would pay them a combined $500 a week, as opposed to the $75 and $85 they respectively earned at Timely. Fearing that Goodman would not pay them if he found out they were moving to National, the pair kept the deal a secret while they continued producing work for the company. Eventually the staff at Timely (most of whom were relatives of Goodman) found out, so Kirby and Simon left after they completed their work on Captain America Comics.
Kirby and Simon spent their first weeks at National trying to come up with characters while the company attempted to find out how to use the pair. After a few failed editor-assigned ghosting assignments, National's Jack Liebowitz told them to "just do what you want" since they were being paid anyway. The pair then revamped the Sandman strip in Adventure Comics and created the superhero Manhunter. In July 1942 they began the Boy Commandos strip. The ongoing Boy Commandos series, launched later that same year, sold over a million copies a month, becoming National's third best-selling title.
Marriage and World War II (1943-1945)
Kirby married Roz Goldstein on May 23, 1942. The same year that he married, he changed his name legally from Jacob Kurtzberg to Jack Kirby.
With World War II underway, Liebowitz expected that Simon and Kirby would be drafted, so he asked the artists to create an inventory of material to be published in their absence. The pair hired writers, inkers, letterers, and colorists in order to create a year's worth of material. Kirby was drafted into the U.S. Army on June 7, 1943. After basic training at Camp Stewart, near Atlanta, Georgia, he was assigned to Company F of the 11th Infantry. landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on August 23, 1944, two-and-a-half months after D-Day, though Kirby's reminiscences would place his arrival just 10 days after. Kirby recalled that a lieutenant, learning that comics artist Kirby was in his command, made him a scout who would advance into towns and draw reconnaissance maps and pictures.
Kirby and his wife corresponded regularly by v-mail, with Roz sending "him a letter a day" while she worked in a lingerie shop and lived with her mother. During the winter of 1944, Kirby suffered severe frostbite on his lower extremities and was taken to a hospital in London, England, for recovery. Doctors considered amputating Kirby's legs, but he eventually recovered from the frostbite. He returned to the United States in January 1945, assigned to Camp Butner in North Carolina, where he spent the last six months of his service as part of the motor pool. Kirby was honorably discharged as a private first class on July 20, 1945, having received a combat infantry badge and a European/African/Middle Eastern Theater ribbon with a bronze battle star. Postwar career (1946-1955)
After returning from the army, Kirby's first daughter, Susan, was born on December 6, 1945. Simon arranged for work for Kirby and himself at Harvey Comics. There through the early 1950s, Simon and Kirby created such titles as the kid-gang adventure Boy Explorers Comics, the kid-gang western Boys' Ranch, and the superhero comics Stuntman, and, in vogue with the fad for 3-D movies, Captain 3-D. The duo additionally freelanced for Hillman Periodicals (the crime fiction comic Real Clue Crime) and for Crestwood Publications (Justice Traps the Guilty).
Kirby and Simon found success in the postwar period by creating romance comics. Simon, inspired by Macfadden Publications' romantic-confession magazine True Story, transplanted the idea to comic books and with Kirby created a first-issue mock-up of Young Romance. Showing it to Crestwood general manager Maurice Rosenfeld, Simon asked for 50% of the comic's profits. Crestwood publishers Teddy Epstein and Mike Bleier agreed, stipulating that the creators would take no money up front Young Romance #1 (September/October 1947) "became Jack and Joe's biggest hit in years". Indeed, the pioneering title sold a staggering 92% of its print run, inspiring Crestwood to increase the print run by the third issue to triple the initial number of copies. Initially published bimonthly, Young Romance quickly became a monthly title and produced the spin-off Young Love - together the two titles sold two million copies per month, according to Simon - later joined by Young Brides and In Love, the latter "featuring full-length romance stories". Young Romance spawned dozens of imitators from publishers such as Timely, Fawcett, Quality, and Fox Features Syndicate. Despite the glut, the Simon & Kirby romance titles continued to sell millions of copies a month, which allowed Kirby to buy a house for his family in Mineola, Long Island.
Kirby's second child, Neal, was born in May 1948. His third child, Barbara, was born in November 1952. In order to support his family, Kirby worked harder, assisted by the deal Simon arranged for the pair that gave them 50 percent of the profits for their work. Bitter that Atlas Comics (formerly Timely) had relaunched Captain America in a new series, in 1954, Kirby and Simon created Fighting American; Simon recalled, "We thought we'd show them how to do Captain American". While the comic book initially portrayed the protagonist as anti-Communist, in the aftermath of the Army-McCarthy hearings Simon and Kirby turned it into a satire. After Simon (1956-1957)
At the urging of a Crestwood/Prize salesman, Kirby and Simon launched their own comics company, Mainline Publications. Titles included Bullseye: Western Scout, Foxhole, In Love, and Police Trap. After the duo rearranged and republished artwork from an old Crestwood story in In Love, Crestwood refused to pay Simon and Kirby. After reviewing Crestwood's finances, the pair's attorney's stated that the company owed them $130,000 over the past seven years. Crestwood paid them $10,000 in addition to their recent delayed payments. However, the partnership between Kirby and Simon had become strained. Simon left the industry for a career in advertising, while Kirby continued to freelance. He was instrumental in the creation of Archie Comics' The Fly and The Double Life of Private Strong, reuniting briefly with Joe Simon. He also drew some issues of Classics Illustrated.
For DC Comics, then known as National Comics, Kirby co-created with writers Dick and Dave Wood the non-superpowered adventuring quartet, the Challengers of the Unknown, in Showcase #6 (February 1957), while also contributing to such anthologies as House of Mystery. During 30 months at DC, Kirby drew slightly more than 600 pages, which included 11 six-page Green Arrow stories in World's Finest Comics and Adventure Comics that, in a rarity, Kirby inked himself. Kirby recast the archer as a science-fiction hero, moving him away from his Batman-formula roots, but in the process alienating Green Arrow co-creator Mort Weisinger. He also began drawing a newspaper comic strip, Sky Masters of the Space Force, written by the Wood brothers and initially inked by the unrelated Wally Wood.
Kirby left National Comics due largely to a contractual dispute in which editor Jack Schiff, who had been involved in getting Kirby and the Wood brothers the Sky Masters contract, claimed he was due royalties from Kirby's share of the strip's profits. Schiff successfully sued Kirby. Some DC editors also had criticized him over art details, such as not drawing "the shoelaces on a cavalryman's boots" and showing a Native American "mounting his horse from the wrong side."
Marvel Comics in the Silver Age (1958-1970)
Kirby returned to work with Stan Lee on the cusp of the company's evolution from its 1950s incarnation as Atlas Comics (previously Timely Comics) to become Marvel. Inker Frank Giacoia approached Lee for work, but when informed that Atlas artists inked their own pencils, suggested he could "get Kirby back here to pencil some stuff." Kirby was still working on DC's Challengers of the Unknown, but also searching for work from other publishers, with little success. Continuing with DC on such titles as House of Mystery and House of Secrets, Kirby drew occasional stories for Atlas, including the Lone Ranger-like Black Rider and the Fu Manchu stand-in Yellow Claw.
Several months later, after his split with DC, Kirby began freelancing regularly for Atlas. Because of the poor page rates, Kirby would spend 12 to 14 hours daily at his drawing table at home, producing eight to ten pages of artwork a day. His first published work at Atlas was the cover of and the seven-page story "I Discovered the Secret of the Flying Saucers" in Strange Worlds #1 (December 1958). Initially with Christopher Rule as his regular inker, and later Dick Ayers, Kirby drew across all genres, from romance to war comics, crime stories to Westerns, but made his mark primarily with a series of supernatural-fantasy and science fiction stories featuring giant, drive-in movie-style monsters with names like Groot, the Thing from Planet X; Grottu, King of the Insects; and Fin Fang Foom for the company's many anthology series, such as Amazing Adventures, Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, and World of Fantasy. His bizarre designs of powerful, unearthly creatures proved a hit with readers.
Then, with Marvel editor-in-chief Lee, Kirby began working on superhero comics again, beginning with The Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961). The landmark series became a hit that revolutionized the industry with its comparative naturalism and, eventually, a cosmic purview informed by Kirby's seemingly boundless imagination - one coincidentally well-matched with the consciousness-expanding youth culture of the 1960s.
For almost a decade, Kirby provided Marvel's house style, co-creating with Stan Lee many of the Marvel characters and designing their visual motifs. At Lee's request, he often provided new-to-Marvel artists "breakdown" layouts, over which they would pencil in order to become acquainted with the Marvel look.
Highlights besides the Fantastic Four include Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the original X-Men, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Galactus, Uatu the Watcher, Magneto, Ego the Living Planet, the Inhumans and their hidden city of Attilan, and the Black Panther - comics' first known black superhero - and his African nation of Wakanda. Simon and Kirby's Captain America was also incorporated into Marvel's continuity with Kirby approving Lee's idea of partially remaking the character as a man out of his time and regretting the death of his sidekick.
In 1968 and 1969, Joe Simon was involved in litigation with Marvel Comics over the ownership of Captain America, initiated by Marvel after Simon registered the copyright renewal for Captain America in his own name. According to Simon, Kirby agreed to support the company in the litigation and, as part of a deal Kirby made with publisher Martin Goodman, signed over to Marvel any rights he might have had to the character.
Kirby continued to expand the medium's boundaries, devising photo-collage covers and interiors, developing new drawing techniques such as the method for depicting energy fields now known as "Kirby Dots," and other experiments. Yet he grew increasingly dissatisfied with working at Marvel. There have been a number of reasons given for this dissatisfaction, including resentment over Stan Lee's increasing media prominence, a lack of full creative control, anger over breaches of perceived promises by publisher Martin Goodman, and frustration over Marvel's failure to credit him specifically for his story plotting and for his character creations and co-creations. He began to both script and draw some secondary features for Marvel, such as "The Inhumans" in Amazing Adventures and horror stories for the anthology title Chamber of Darkness, and received full credit for doing so; but he eventually left the company in 1970 for rival DC Comics, under editorial director Carmine Infantino.
DC Comics and the Fourth World saga (1971-1975)
Kirby spent nearly two years negotiating a deal to move to DC Comics. Kirby returned to DC in late 1970, signing a three-year contract with an option for two additional years. He produced a series of inter-linked titles under the blanket sobriquet "The Fourth World" including a trilogy of new titles, New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People, as well as the Superman title, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. Kirby picked the latter book because the series was without a stable creative team and he did not want to cost anyone a job. The central villain of the Fourth World series, Darkseid, and some of the Fourth World concepts, appeared in Jimmy Olsen before the launch of the other Fourth World books, giving the new titles greater exposure to potential buyers.
Kirby later produced other DC titles such as OMAC, Kamandi, The Demon, Kobra and, together with former partner Joe Simon for one last time, a new incarnation of the Sandman.Return to Marvel (1976-1978)
Kirby then returned to Marvel Comics where he both wrote and drew Captain America and created the series The Eternals, which featured a race of inscrutable alien giants, the Celestials, whose behind-the-scenes intervention influenced the evolution of life on Earth. Kirby's other Marvel creations in this period include Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man, and an adaptation and expansion of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as an abortive attempt to do the same for the classic television series, The Prisoner. He also wrote and drew Black Panther and did numerous covers across the line.
Film and animation (1979-1980)
Still dissatisfied with Marvel's treatment of him, and with the company's refusal to provide health and other employment benefits, Kirby left Marvel to work in animation. In that field, he did designs for Turbo Teen, Thundarr the Barbarian and other animated television series. He also worked on The Fantastic Four cartoon show, reuniting him with scriptwriter Stan Lee. He illustrated an adaptation of the Walt Disney movie The Black Hole for Walt Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales syndicated comic strip in 1979-80.
In 1979, Kirby drew concept art for film producer Barry Geller's script treatment adapting Roger Zelazny's science fiction novel, Lord of Light, for which Geller had purchased the rights. With mutual vision Geller worked with Kirby commissioning him to imagine Hollywood set designs to also be used as architectural renderings for a Colorado theme park to be called Science Fiction Land, and announced his plans at a November press conference attended by Kirby, former NFL American football star Rosey Grier, writer Ray Bradbury, and others. While the film did not come to fruition, Kirby's drawings were used for the C.I.A.'s "Canadian caper", in which some members of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, who had avoided capture in the Iran hostage crisis, were able to escape the country posing as members of a movie location-scouting crew.
Final years and death (1981-1994)
In the early 1980s, Pacific Comics, a new, non-newsstand comic book publisher, made a then-groundbreaking deal with Kirby to publish a creator-owned series Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, and a six-issue mini-series called Silver Star which was collected in hardcover format in 2007. This, together with similar actions by other independent comics publishers as Eclipse Comics where he co-created Destroyer Duck to help Steve Gerber fight in his case versus Marvel, helped establish a precedent to end the monopoly of the work for hire system, wherein comics creators, even freelancers, had owned no rights to characters they created.
Though estranged from Marvel, Kirby continued to do periodic work for DC Comics during the 1980s, including a brief revival of his New Gods saga.
Kirby also retained ownership of characters used by Topps Comics beginning in 1993, for a set of series in what the company dubbed "The Kirbyverse". These titles were derived mainly from designs and concepts that Kirby had kept in his files, some intended initially for the by-then-defunct Pacific Comics, and then licensed to Topps for what would become the "Jack Kirby's Secret City Saga" mythos.
On February 6, 1994, Kirby died at age 76 of heart failure in his Thousand Oaks, California home and is buried at the Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park, Westlake Village, California. Kirby's estate
Kirby's daughter, Lisa Kirby, announced in early 2006 that she and co-writer Steve Robertson, with artist Mike Thibodeaux, planned to publish via the Marvel Comics Icon imprint, a six-issue limited series, Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters, featuring characters and concepts created by her father for Captain Victory. The series, scripted by Lisa Kirby, Robertson, Thibodeaux, and Richard French, with pencil art by Jack Kirby and Thibodeaux, and inking by Scott Hanna and Karl Kesel primarily, ran cover-dated September 2006 to January 2007 through issue 5, and September 2007 for the final issue. The series was collected in hardcover (ISBN 0-7851-2628-7) in 2007, and in trade paperback (ISBN 0-7851-2629-5) the following year.
Marvel also posthumously published a "lost" Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four story, Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure (April 2008), with unused pages Kirby had originally drawn for Fantastic Four 108 (March 1971).
In 2009, Kirby's family licensed to Dynamite Entertainment the right to make new comics featuring Kirby's creator-owned characters. They also served notices of termination to Disney, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Paramount, and Sony in order to regain control of various Silver Age Marvel characters. Awards and honors
Jack Kirby received a great deal of recognition over the course of his career, including the 1967 Alley Award for Best Pencil Artist. The following year he was runner-up behind Jim Steranko. His other Alley Awards were:
* 1963: Favorite Short Story - "The Human Torch Meets Captain America,", by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Strange Tales #114* 1964:
o Best Novel - "Captain America Joins the Avengers", by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, from The Avengers #4
o Best New Strip or Book - "Captain America", by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, in Tales of Suspense
* 1965: Best Short Story - "The Origin of the Red Skull", by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Tales of Suspense #66: Best Professional Work, Regular Short Feature - "Tales of Asgard" by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, in The Mighty Thor
* 1967: Best Professional Work, Regular Short Feature - (tie) "Tales of Asgard" and "Tales of the Inhumans", both by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, in The Mighty Thor1968:
o Best Professional Work, Best Regular Short Feature - "Tales of the Inhumans", by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, in The Mighty Thor
o Best Professional Work, Hall of Fame - Fantastic Four, by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby; Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., by Jim Steranko
Kirby won a Shazam Award for Special Achievement by an Individual in 1971 for his "Fourth World" series in Forever People, New Gods, Mister Miracle, and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. He was inducted into the Shazam Awards Hall of Fame in 1975. In 1987 he was an inaugural inductee into The Will Eisner Award Hall. 1993 saw him receive the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award at that year's Eisner Awards. His work was honored posthumously in 1998. The collection of his New Gods material, Jack Kirby's New Gods by Jack Kirby, edited by Bob Kahan won both the Harvey Award for Best Domestic Reprint Project and the Eisner Award for Best Archival Collection/Project.
The Jack Kirby Awards and Jack Kirby Hall of Fame were named in his honor.
With Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Gary Panter and Chris Ware, Kirby was among the artists honored in the exhibition "Masters of American Comics" at the Jewish Museum in New York City, New York, from September 16, 2006 to January 28, 2007.