Today marks the 100th birthday of Jaob Kurtzberg, aka Jack Kirby, the King of Comics. In almost any other industry, declaring someone ‘the King’ would be a controversial statement. But you never hear anyone question Kirby’s reign, and for good reason: the man represents all that is great about comics, and most of the industry is still trying to catch up to him in just about every way.
To celebrate his centennial, we asked our staff to contribute 100(ish) word essays about what the King means to them, and why he still matters. We encourage you to leave your own reflections on the King in the comments.
Thanks for everything, Jack.
Jacob Kurtzberg grew up on the Lower East Side during the Great Depression. Said to be a mugger in his early days, the man who would be King had some of the worst luck of anyone alive. Kurtzberg tried to follow in the footsteps of his comic drawing compatriot Will Eisner, and put his artistic talents to work in service of the U.S. Army. Notoriously off-putting, Kirby instead earned himself a spot on the Normandy Beach Landing. Of course, he had already been taking a stand against the Nazis. His creation Captain America walloped Hitler in a time when such thinking was unpopular, even dangerous. Jack “the King” Kirby continued to face bad luck for most of his life, but 100 years after his birth, we celebrate him as a great artist, and a great American. He’ll always be royalty to me. – Jake Hill
When I first got into comics I didn’t get Jack Kirby. I was a dumb 15-year-old who wrote him off as boring, old people comics. It wasn’t until a few years later that I bought a ratty copy of “OMAC” #1 from a second-hand bookstore that I finally understood the hype. The draftsmanship, the over-the-top sci-fi designs, the energy emanating from every action sequence, the depth of his imagination. The splash page of the Build-A-Friend staring back at you is one the greatest openings of all-time and the bit where OMAC walks away from the exploding facility is one of the coolest sequences committed to paper. He’s the King for a reason and I get that now. – Chris Neill
A prodigious creator, whose creations ran from kid newspaper salesmen to actual deities.
An extraordinary artist, who created a style that is still emulated, but never equaled, to this day.
An inspiration to millions, whose characters have generated billions of dollars across various platforms.
A fierce advocate for the rights of creators.
A hero who fought Nazis in real life and on the page.
A dedicated husband, father, and friend.
A model American.
– Brian Salvatore
It’s impossible to overstate Jack Kirby’s influence on current comics. Like a lot of fans, I felt his influence in the books I read before ever reading any of his own work. The bombastic, epic drama of Simonson’s Thor; the grand adventure of Waid & Wieringo’s Fantastic Four; the cosmic opera of DC’s multiversal crises; all of which would not exist in their current form without Kirby. When I eventually dived into his books – his collaborations with Stan Lee and especially his Fourth World saga for DC – I was forever changed as a comics reader. There’s a reason he’s called The King. – Matt Lune
For me, Jack Kirby was the king of aesthetic. In all my years of reading comic books, I’d never found character design as powerful as Galactus in “Fantastic Four” or environments like the sprawling pits of Apokolips or ethereal beauty of New Genesis in “The New Gods”. Similarly, I’d always perceived silver age comics as dialogue heavy and boring, but Kirby was different. He was wordy, but his words were rich and heavy, and conveyed a tone that thrust you into the thick of things. I’ll always remember ‘The Glory Boat’ from “The New Gods” as my favourite, as it feels like the standard by which all modern comics build off. Jack Kirby was one in a million, and his legacy will influence creators forever. – Rowan GroverContinued below
When I came to comics in my early teens, I didn’t like Kirby. To 14-year-old me, his art seemed dated, childish – the opposite of what 14-year-olds think they want; 14-year-olds want the future, not the past, they want to be adults even though they are far from adulthood. But 14 year old me was wrong about Kirby. Kirby is everything great about superhero comics. Kirby is frenetic and alive. Kirby is fun and colourful. Kirby is smart and powerful. Kirby is a superhero – an iconic symbol of what cape comics could, and should, be. – Edward Haynes
With Jack Kirby, you have probably the best single vector into the overall labor relations and the creative processes of Silver and Bronze Age. His art helped define the foundation of the Marvel Universe. His partnership with Stan Lee is a notable example of the Marvel Method and with sites like KirbyWithoutWords how that method contradicts and subverts. Once he began inking his own work, and the move to DC readers got the sense of an actual auteur’s comic book could look like, which has been echoed over the years with creatives like Mildred Louis, Kate Leth, a horde of other web comic artists, as well as more mainstream ones like Jeff Lemire or Stjepan Šejić. – Mike Mazzacane
Jack Kirby is one of those names, much like his frequent Marvel collaborator Stan Lee, whose work I have read very little of yet whose influence is so large that I have seen countless images of it. From his dynamic covers to his distinctive way of designing monsters, to his signature Kirby crackle, his work stands the test of time (even if his stories do show their age). My most personal encounter with Kirby was through Will Eisner’s short ‘The Dreamer.’ It brought the man to life beyond the images he drew, even if it was a fictionalized version set in Eisner’s distinctive style. He was no longer Jack Kirby, comic king, he was now Jacob Kurtzberg, a comic artist who had a dream and fought tooth and nail to see it through. It may not have always worked out in the end, but he gave it a hell of a shot. Happy 100th Jack. – Elias Rosner
Accurate anatomical proportion? Soundly engineered mechanical designs? Round fingertips? These things matter not in the Kirby-verse. You know what does…
Gadgets and machinery both cosmic and badass!
And the impact that breaks free of mere panel barriers and flat, four-color pages.
The legacy is obvious for his artwork alone. But what about the trails blazed towards proper artists’ rights? Complete stables pulled from the ether (in whole and in part) and entrenched in the zeitgeist? That the King stayed the King through three distinct epochs?
Why does Kirby matter? He built the damn sandbox we’re all stilling playing in. – Kent Falkenberg