Why Jack Kirby Matters.
Jack Kirby matters for all the right reasons. This innovative man created or co-created the heroes and villains that impacted the culture of several generations: Captain America, The Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers, Darkseid, The New Gods, Boy Commandos, Newsboy Legion, the romance comics genre, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Ant-Man, Dr. Doom, Red Skull, Magneto, Mr. Miracle, Kamandi, the Demon, Challengers of the Unknown, Black Panther, Silver Surfer, Galactus, Mole Man, Machine Man, Captain Victory, Nick Fury, the Inhumans, and hundreds more. Nobody created more important characters in such great abundance.
Jack was one of the first “big” thinkers in comics. His work influenced directly or indirectly many movies (e.g. Star Wars), tons of cartoons and video games. Were there cosmic sagas in comics before Jack? Barely (if you count Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon), and certainly none on the grand scale that became a Kirby trademark that others continually riff from to this day.
Conversely, Jack portrayed the average world just as convincingly as he did the environments of fantasy, often at the same time. Mundane aspects of clothing, buildings, furniture, cars, planes, trains… you name it, Kirby gave life to every detail that ever appeared a comic book panel that he designed. It was his world of imagination extracted from life, and he brought us along for the ride.
Jack influenced hundreds of artists and writers with his ground breaking story ideas and approach to drawing. He created a lot of the visual language of comics that we take for granted today. There are untold people indirectly influenced by Kirby who don’t even know they were, and of course, many more who readily admit how Kirby’s work did affect their thinking in regard to what comics were or could be. The vast scale and depth of his work rescued comics in the 1960s from the doldrums they had lapsed into by not changing with the times. Jack was always ahead of the times he lived in. Would there be a Marvel Comics today without Jack Kirby? Possibly not, and certainly not in the form that Kirby helped to craft that many others continued and expanded on in later years.
He did all of that, and more. Jack loved the fans, and they loved him. Jack interacted with others without the big ego that drove some comics creators. Kids and adults were treated equally, and Jack never thought he was above them in any way. When you walked away from an encounter with Jack, you felt you had a real conversation instead of being granted an audience. People easily related to Jack as he did with them because Jack never felt superior to others. On a down to the ground human level, he was one of us, and never wanted to be more than that.
Today, August 28, 2017, would have been Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday. We celebrate his life and career, both of which continually influence us, and likely always will. Those of us who knew him, those of us who counted him as a friend, those who only knew him through his work owe him a debt of gratitude that we can never repay. Jack wouldn’t have wanted us to, anyway. He was content to stand in our number as a citizen of humanity, and enjoy our company, just as we enjoyed his. Thais why he lives on past his life span, and why he will continue to do so as long as his works and the man himself are remembered by a society and culture he help to shape just by being Jack Kirby.