Welcome to Between the Pages’ celebration of Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday. I wanted to celebrate the King of Comics with a GREAT Jack Kirby Cake and by talking about why Jack Kirby was so amazing!
This awesome Jack Kirby Cake was made by Jean Schapowal from Cakes with Character. Jean made this cake for the That Takes The Cake Competition in Austin, Texas. Jean hand sculpted the Jack Kirby cake topper. The artwork on the cake is based on Jack’s futurist super bowl drawings that he did for the NFL. Jean drew the artwork on the cake with a food safe black marker and then painted the cake. The end results is a cake fit for a king!
In the 1960s, Stan “The Man” Lee started giving all of the people credited in their superhero comics cute nicknames. At some point, Jack went from “Jolly” Jack Kirby to Jack “The King” Kirby and everyone has been calling him the king ever since.
Here are 10 reasons why I think Jack Kirby really was the King of Comics. I’m a fan, not a comics historian or trained artist, so if I got anything wrong, please let me know in the comments bellow.
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One of my favorite panels from one of my favorite comic books – This Man..This Monster! from Fantastic Four #51.
1 – Lightning Fast
In this day and age, most pencilers pencil one comic book a month and often have fill in artists do the occasional issue so books stay on schedule. Jack was one of the fastest pencilers to ever work in comics. I’ll give you a good example. In the early 1970s, Jack was drawing four comic books for DC Comics. His contract with DC said that he had to draw 15 pages per week and he often drew more than that.
In addition to drawing comics, Jack drew hundreds of covers and did breakdowns on countless other comics.
Thor battles the Thing
2 – Amazing Artist Who Could Draw Anything
There is a term for people who churn out a ton of work. Unfortunately, they’re usually called hacks. Jack was as far from a hack as possible. Jack could draw anything and draw it extremely well. Jack was the best at drawing action. That’s harder than it sounds since comics books are made up of static panels. Jack was a master at one and two page panels. Nobody drew crazy science fictio
n devices better. The amount of detail on his machines was mind boggling. Kirby’s monsters were jaw dropping. His superhero, science fiction, and monster comics featured rays, cosmic energy, and explosions. Jack had a particular style of drawing this which is known a Kirby Krackle. There is even a cool band by that name. One of my favorite things that Jack did was create comic book panels which mixed artwork and photographed images. The results were panels that look like nothing else in comics.
Photo / Artwork Collage
3 – Co-wrote Almost Everything He Worked On
Jack wasn’t just a penciler. He had an active role in plotting or writing almost every comic book he worked on. Remember, when I said that Jack Kirby was drawing four titles for DC comics? He also plotted and scripted those comics!
Jack Kirby is best known for his work with Stan Lee. One of the biggest arguments in comic book history is what was created by Jack and what was created by Stan. Jack was such an integral part of this partnership that it is impossible to know.
One of Jack Kirby’s marvelous machines
4 – Worked In Every Genre
Jack worked in pretty much every genre you could image. He was legendary for his superheroes, monster, and science fiction comics. But, Jack also drew westerns and war comics. Jack was a veteran of World War II. My understanding is that Jack loved working on war comics. Jack drew everything from gangster comics to romance comics (more on those later). Jack drew movie adaptions. He is famous for his work on the both 2001: A Space Odyssey comic book and treasury edition. Jack drew comic books based on toys. DC Comics made a wonderful deal with Jack. When some of the characters Jack created were turned into Super Powers Action Figures, Jack was hired to update the designs of these characters. This way Jack got royalties on these action figures. Then, they also had Jack draw most of the Super Powers comics.
A real marvel two-in-one: a western / monster comic!
5 – Invented Romance Comics
Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created the genre of Romance Comics. Their first romance comic book series was Young Romance.
The way comic book sales used to work was that companies printed a ton of each issue. They were shipped to newsstands and spinner racks. If a comic book didn’t sell by the date on the cover, the merchant tore off the cover and returned it. That way, merchants only paid for what sold. While tons of comic books were printed, not every issue sold. According to Wikipedia, the first issue of Young Romance sold a mindboggling 92% of its print run. A 100% sell through was impossible, because some comics were ruined during shipping.
Young Romance was so successful that three years later, there were over 150 different romance comics being published.
The cover to Young Romance #1
6 – Did Not Want To Work With Other People’s Characters
Jack strongly preferred working on his own characters over working on characters created by others. This is why he never had runs on Spider-Man, Batman, or Superman. He did on occasions work on other people’s characters. He had a short run on Green Arrow when it was a backup feature. Jack also worked on Jimmy Olsen when he first came to DC Comics in the 1970s. They wanted him to work on one established comic. Jack’s Jimmy Olsen wasn’t anything like what came before and it was full of characters Jack created. Jack also did some war comics which featured characters that had already been around.
Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen
7 – Created The Greatest Heroes
Because Jack strongly preferred working on his own characters, he created or co-created some of the best heroes ever. Here is just a tiny fraction of the heroes he had a role in creating: Captain America and Bucky, Black Panther, Iron Man, The Hulk, Marvel Comic’s Thor, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Bolt, Medusa, Crystal, Lockjaw, Mister Miracle and Big Barda, Nick Fury, Agent Peggy Carter, The Thing, Invisible Girl, Mr. Fantastic, and the modern Human Torch, The Silver Surfer, Etrigan the Demon, Cyclops, the Beast, The Angel, Marvel Girl, and Iceman, Marvel Comic’s Hercules, Ka-Zar, Kamandi, Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur, OMAC, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch, The Rawhide Kid and the Two Gun Kid, Groot, Wonder Man, and Archie Comics’ The Fly. He also created many teams including The Avengers, The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Inhumans, The Eternals, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. and S.H.I.E.L.D. Lastly, he also created Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, Silver Star, and Destoyer Duck. I’m separating these out for a reason that I’ll get back to later.
The Thing who is both a monster and a superhero battles a robot while a Skrull in the form of a gangster looks on.
8 – Created The Greatest Villains
As great as Jack Kirby’s heroes are, the villains he helped create may even be better. Let me just start with the big five – Darkseid, Marvel’s Loki, the Red Skull, Magneto, and Doctor Doom. I could stop the list there but he also helped create a ton of other classic villains including Galactus, Annihilus, The High Evolutionary, Juggernaut, Kang the Conqueror, Mole Man, Ronan The Accuser, Baron Zemo, The Skrulls, The Enchantress and The Executioner, Absorbing Man,and MODOK.
The thing that made his villains so great is that they have motives that you could understand.
The Red Skull is so passionate about believing that the Axis was right that he still wages World War II to this day.
Doctor Doom is a study in contradictions. He may be the smartest person alive, but all his brains can’t fix his disfigurement. He is a scientific genius and a sorcerer. He is the rightful ruler of Latveria. He is an ruthless dictator, but the country is prosperous and has no crime.
Magneto has been persecuted all his life for being a mutant. He believes that mutants are the next evolutionary phase of mankind and uses his powers to protect and promote mutants.
Galactus isn’t good or evil. He is so large that when he hungers, only consuming whole planets can sate his hunger.
Doctor Doom, The Silver Surfer, and Kirby Krackle
9 – Creating A New Mythology
Jack Kirby passed away in 1994, but so many of his creations are still growing in popularity. The reason is that Jack was creating a new mythology. He took history, mythology, science fiction, and reality, mixed them together, and created his own mythology filled with mythic heroes, villains, and stories. While his creations where dynamic and larger than life, he always left enough humanity in his characters that people could relate to them. I honestly believe that a hundred years from now people will still be telling stories featuring Jack Kirby’s characters.
Oddly enough while creating his own mythology, Jack helped revive interest in the Norse gods. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a very popular comic book featuring their versions of the Norse gods, Thor and Loki. For years, Thor comic books even had a backup featured called Tales of Asgard which retold many classic stories about the Norse gods. While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s version of Thor is extremely popular, interest in the original Norse gods has also grown.
Best selling author Neil Gaiman has written two books about the Norse gods – Odd and The Frost Giants and Norse Mythology. In the preface to Norse Mythology, Neil talks about reading Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Thor comic books when he was little.
Mary Pope Osborne, author of the famous Magic Treehouse series, has written Favorite Norse Myths.
Rick Riordan, author of the popular Percy Jackson books, is writing a new series Magnus Chase which deals with the Norse gods.
If Jack Kirby were still with us, I think he’d be reading these books with a giant grin on his face.
Thor by Jack Kirby
10 Pioneer Of Creator Owned Comics
While Jack co-created Captain America, The Avengers, The X-Men, The Red Skull, and Darkseid, but he didn’t own them. In 1981, Pacific Comics began publishing Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, a comic book plotted, scripted, penciled, and OWNED by Jack Kirby. To put this in perspective Dave Sim’s Cerebus the Aardvark had only begun in December of 1977, Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest had begun in 1978, and Image Comics wouldn’t began until 1992. Having The King of Comics doing a creator owned comic book in 1981 was a major milestone in comic book history. I’m not sure creator owned comic books like The Walking Dead and Hellboy would exist without Jack doing Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers.
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #1
11 – Wanted To Create New Comic Book Formats
I’m including this as #11 on a Top 10 list, because it was one of the few things that Jack Kirby envisioned that he wasn’t able to make a reality during his lifetime.
This is a wonderful time to be a fan of comic books. We have movies, cartoons, TV shows, and video games based on comic books. They are tons of comic book themed toys and merchandise. Nobody bats an eye if an adult is wearing a Captain America t-shirt or has a Captain America coffee cup.
Comics book shops are filled with comic books of every shape and size imaginable. We have digests (those small comic book paperbacks you see at the check out stand usually featuring either Archie or Marvel characters). There are manga books which are slightly larger than a digest but still smaller than the average comic book. There are paper back collections of comic books. Most of these collect 4 to 6 issues of a title, but there are special editions that collect 20 or so issues. There are hardbacks. There are even massive hardbacks, often called Omnibuses, which routinely consist of over 600 pages. There are treasury editions which are much larger than regular comic books. Artist editions reprint original comic book artwork at its original size.
Plus, you can read comic books on your phone, tablet, and TV screen.
Jack Kirby believed that the standard comic book was only the tip of the iceberg. He wanted to experiment with telling comic book stories in other formats. Unfortunately, Jack was so far ahead of his time that this only happened a few times. At Marvel, Jack Kirby created two all new treasury editions (think of very large comic books) – one was a Captain America treasury edition made specifically for the bicentennial. The other was based on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
While at DC Comics, Jack published two black and white comic book magazines – Spirit World and In The Days Of The Mob. Jack worked on two black and white romance comic magazines – Soul Love and True Life Divorce, but neither were ever printed.
I honestly believe that Jack would be thrilled if he could see that his dream did finally come to fruition. I also believe Jack was such a visionary that if he saw the golden age of comic books we are living in, that he’d dream up new formats and new frontiers for the future of comics.
The Model by Jack Kirby from True Life Divorce #1. The Bronze Age of Blogs has most of the artwork from this unpublished issue.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this celebration of Jack Kirby, the King of Comics!
Want to read or listen to more about Jack Kirby? Check out:
As a lead-up to Jack birthday, The Crapbox of Son Of Cthulhu has been doing reviews of his comics for the last few days. So far he has reviewed – Fantastic Four #1, Machine Man #2, The Eternals #3, and Kamandi #14.