August 28, 2017

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Kirby Centennial- Happy 100th Birthday, Jack!


It occurs to me that I’ve written a lot about the comics that Jack Kirby has influenced but I’ve written very little about his own work, other than calling Fantastic Four #51 a near perfect comic (and I may have just done that on Twitter.) That’s something that I want to rectify in the future because Kirby was a cartoonist that I spent a long time rebelling against. I was one of those kids who got into comics with Neal Adams and John Byrne and couldn’t see Kirby for what he was back then. And it’s weird to me because I read a lot of his Fantastic Four thanks to all of the different ways that Marvel was reprinting FF back around 1982.

Honestly, I don’t know if I have any idea how to write about Kirby. While once upon a time, his artwork seemed old and unsophisticated to me, now it’s everything I love about comics. To me, he is the foundation of comics. It used to be that you could look at every Marvel, DC and even Image book and see only second, third, and fourth generation riffs of Kirby but today’s comics have moved beyond the homogeneity of Kirby to see more artists like Kurtzman, Toth, and others in the act of drawing today. But what we still see from Kirby in most comics is the language of storytelling that he developed. That’s Kirby’s influence. As much as it’s the defining of how superheroes look, Kirby schooled everyone in how to tell superhero stories. And it’s not just superhero stories but all stories. 


Kirby redefined the narrative architecture of comics. Whether it’s his work with Stan Lee in the 1960s or his own solo work in the 1970s, Kirby created a visual language of drama and tension that still works today. We see this language in comics from Sean Phillips to Tom Scioli to Mike Mignola. While these cartoonists are all very different and tell their stories in unique and personal ways, you can trace the ways that they create their comics back to Jack Kirby.

Today is Kirby’s 100th birthday and I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about it all day. At one point, I wanted to have all kinds of pieces done this month about Kirby, his work, and his influence but he intimidates me. There are so many comics that he drew that I don’t know where to even begin with his stuff. And looking at what people have been posting to Twitter today about Kirby, you can see the love for Kirby but I don’t know if I’m seeing the genius of Kirby. And that’s due much more to a 140 character limit than anything else. It’s actually been great just to scroll through feeds today and just drink in the artwork. 


Jack Kirby means so much more to me in 2017 than he did in 2007, 1997, 1987 or 1977. But I don’t know if I could say why. So for the next year, I’ll be celebrating Kirby’s centennial by exploring at least one Kirby comic a month. During this Kirby Centennial, I want to spend some serious time with the man and the creator, doing a deep dive into his work and trying to figure him out. His work is so natural to me because I’ve always experienced it but I can’t really articulate why it’s important to me. I don’t know if I’ll know Jack Kirby any better by the time of his 101st birthday but I can think of worst ways to spend a year.

So Happy 100th Birthday Jacob Kurtzberg, Jack Kirby, The King, Jolly Jack Kirby, and Jumping Jack Kirby.