Let me tell ya ’bout a kid called Kirby. Wasn’t the name his mother gave him, but that’s what he settled on, so that’s what we called him, got it? Weren’t too long before we’d have another name for him: The King. “The King of Comics” we called him. Let me tell you ’bout ol’ King Kirby.
Man was a visionary. Was a time I’d say a man was the product of his experiences; ‘Art imitates Life’, that kinda thing. Not Kirby. Father was a factory worker – Jewish – came from Austria. Kid grew up on Suffolk Street, New York; got into street fighting; said he liked it; said it was second nature to him. Wasn’t the only thing second nature to him – kid was quicker with a charcoal than he was with his fists. Too fast, they’d say – wouldn’t let him into college ’cause he made ’em all look bad!
Before long he was drawin’ strips for the paper. Went by the name of “Jack Curtiss”. By the time the funnies found him he was calling himself all sorts o’ things: “Curt Davis”, “Fred Sande”, “Ted Grey”, “Teddy” – like he was some kinda superhero with a secret identity – see what I’m getting at here? Anyway, finally he settles on ‘Jack’, “Jack Kirby”.
Soon he lands a job at Timely Comics, which may not sound like much. You might recognize it by its new name, MARVEL COMICS. Then he draws this guy called Captain America, all suited up in spandex with the stars and stripes. Very first issue, March 1941, front page, punches Hitler right in the mug! You can’t pay ten cents for that kind of action this day and age! This was nine months before Pearl Harbor, mind you. Nine months! Can you see it yet? This is what I been talkin’ about! Kirby, an Austro-Jewish-American street fighter, makes up this character called Captain America, who punches Hitler in the face nine months before we even entered World War II.
And here’s the real kicker: two years later, kid gets drafted in the US Army. Lands on Omaha Beach ten days after D-Day, and his lieutenant asks him to scout ahead and draw recon maps! Wasn’t all pretty pictures, though – nearly lost his legs in the winter of ’44, to frostbite, of all things. See? See?! Dammit, do I have to beat you over the head with it?! Captain America was frozen in ice, dammit! How else could he come back to fight the Commies? Man was a genius, a bona fide prophet, I tells ya!
Anyway, he got an honorable discharge in ’45, and started doing comics again. He did a bit of this and that – Young Romance, Young Love – the kid was in love, who could blame him? Then he did Challengers of the Unknown and Green Arrow for National. Eventually, though, he came back to Marvel. It was there he started makin’ superheroes again – nothin’ major – just little ones like the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, Silver Surfer, and Black Panther, you know? Stan’d say that they were all his idea, but we knew better. Was a time when you wanted to draw Marvel, you had to draw Kirby. He was their Holy Scripture – the A-B-C of comic art.
But it wasn’t enough for the King, he had to keep on movin’. He signed with comic rivals DC and started work on his crown jewel. He called it his “Fourth World”. He wrote and drew four titles at the same time: the New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. (For the record, DC woulda given him any book he wanted – the Man of Steel, the Caped Crusader, you name it – but God bless him, he didn’t take ’em, because – get this – he didn’t want to cost anyone their job! That’s just the kind of guy he was.) Now, I’m a simple kinda guy, and I don’t read so good, but I can call it like I see it, and this stuff – when you read it, it just crackled off the page like Pop Rocks, and it filled your head with these ideas, you know? Things you never knew existed until Kirby put ’em there, right up in your noggin’. There were days I’d swear my head would explode, and I thought to myself, where does he come up with this stuff? He’d never tell me – didn’t have the time – he simply smiled and got back to his drawings. He was off in his own little world – he called it “The Fourth World” – but I called it Kirby’s Dream Land.
Jack’s left us now, but I still see him everywhere. Not a week goes by I don’t read a comic or watch a film dedicated to the King. I just read a Batman comic this morning was dedicated to him – the guy never even wrote a Batman comic! If he’s not your favorite artist, odds are he’s your favorite artist’s favorite artist. They call it “The Kirby Effect”. Heh. He woulda liked that. Prolly woulda come up with a science-like explanation for it too. But I worked it out myself the other day:
Art doesn’t imitate Life, and Life doesn’t imitate Art. Life imitates Kirby.